Reverend Billy Graham's Tennessee ties - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Reverend Billy Graham's Tennessee ties

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BRADLEY COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -

Evangelist Billy Graham, famously known as 'America's Pastor,' has died at the age of 99. He passed away at his home in North Carolina.

Hundreds of millions of people turned out worldwide to hear Graham preach at his crusades over the years. His final crusade was in New York City in 2005.

READ MORE | UPDATE: 'America's Pastor' evangelist Rev. Billy Graham dies at age of 99

Graham was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President Reagan in 1983. 

In 1936, he attended Bob Jones College, now Lee University, in Cleveland, Tennessee.  Historians said at age 19, Graham preached his first sermon at Charleston Methodist Church in Bradley County. 

Channel 3 spoke to Mayor Tom Rowland, who knew Graham, and he said the religious icon had a sense of humor and always told the truth. He stood up when it mattered, and most importantly, he touched the lives of many.

"He went to school here when it was Bob Jones College, predecessor of Lee University, and he got kicked out of school," Mayor Rowland said.

READ MORE | Rev. Billy Graham's visit to the Scenic City in 1991

As the story goes, Graham approached the president of the school in his office and asked him to relax some of the strict rules. 

"Dr. Jones pointed a finger at him and said, young man, if you don't like it here, you can leave; you'll never amount to anything but a backwoods Baptist preacher," Rowland added. 

Graham's messages reached hundreds of millions of people. His sermons and crusades filled stadiums around the world.

"He was [a] very humble person, although he had counseled with Presidents, Kings and Queens, Heads of State; it never went to his head," Rowland said. 

As a freshman, Graham worked at the corner of Central Avenue at Parks Belk Department Store, where he once tried to talk a woman out of buying a pair of shoes. 

"He couldn't sell soles, but he could win souls," Rowland added. "I always thought that was cute." 

Graham's old dormitory, Medlin Hall, paid tribute to his legacy Wednesday by hanging memorial wreaths on every door.  Officials said the city's Billy Graham Avenue signs will be draped until he's laid to rest. 

"He made a statement a long time ago that there will be news reports Billy Graham is dead, and he said that won't be true," Rowland said. "Billy Graham has moved to another place, and that's what happened this morning."

Mayor Rowland tells Channel 3, that he and Governor Bill Haslam recently made Graham an honorary citizen of the State of Tennessee and the City of Cleveland, but those proclamations have not yet been mailed to Graham's family. 

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