Bush Family Finds Close Friend in Graham Former President, Governors Have Fond Memories of Evangelist
Pendleton, Randolph, The Florida Times Union
Byline: Randolph Pendleton, Times-Union senior writer
TALLAHASSEE -- The call to Billy Graham from the White House on Jan. 16, 1991, made an urgent request: Could he come to lunch with President Bush that day?
When he said he could not get there from North Carolina that soon, the invitation was amended to dinner.
That evening Graham watched the Persian Gulf war begin on television in the Blue Room with Barbara Bush and prayed with the president and first lady when Bush joined them before dinner.
Graham recounted the evening in his autobiography Just As I Am.
It was not surprising that the president called on Graham, who has been a spiritual adviser to many presidents but was particularly close to Bush.
He was a friend of Bush's father, Prescott, long before in Washington and played golf with him in Hobe Sound after the former senator retired.
Through the years, Graham and his wife, Ruth, have been frequent weekend visitors at the Bush summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, and he participated not only in Bush's inauguration as president but also the inaugurations of his sons as governors of Texas and Florida.
On the wall of his Asheville, N.C., office is a picture of himself playing with the Bush family dogs on the beach at Kennebunkport.
Graham was on hand the day the Bushes moved into the White House in 1989, visiting Bush's mother, who was ill and staying in the Queens Bedroom.
And when they ate dinner on their last night in the White House in January 1993, the Grahams were with them.
In his book, Graham wrote of watching Jeb Bush, before he was governor of Florida, gather up his children and camp out on the lawn at Kennebunkport all night.
Jeb Bush calls Graham "an incredibly righteous and loving man" who influenced people for the better just by his presence.
"I can remember having a conversation at dinner with our whole family when we started asking him questions about faith, the Bible and how wonderful he was to take the time to respond," Bush said in an interview this month.
Did Jeb Bush seek guidance from Graham when he made his decision to become a Catholic?
"No, I didn't," Bush replied with a laugh. "He might have changed my mind."
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, Jeb's brother, is another member of the family with fond memories of Graham.
He credits Graham with planting the seed that resulted a year later in his decision to stop drinking and become more focused and disciplined.
Bush said in his book A Charge to Keep, that Graham talked with the family while sitting in front of a fire at their Kennebunkport home.
"And what he said sparked a change in my heart," Bush wrote. "I don't remember the exact words. …