special day

Young northsider shares experience of attending Billy Graham’s funeral

About 2,000 people filled a huge white tent recently for a private funeral outside the Billy Graham Library to honor the iconic evangelist who preached to more than 210,000,000 people (in person) across the globe. Jackson Academy was represented in that number by senior Bryant Thaxton.

Employed by The United Methodist Hour as a cameraman and assistant producer, Thaxton received one of the coveted media passes to cover the event. The funeral was an amazing experience, he said. “It was moving and very well put together, but nothing flashy... it echoed how the life of Billy Graham was lived.”

Graham, who died February 21 at age 99, was honored in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Graham served as a key spiritual leader, friend and counselor to all U.S. presidents since Harry Truman. The funeral was attended not only by President Trump and the First Lady, but also by Vice President Pence and his wife. Other notable celebrities and influential leaders also paid their respects to the well-loved icon.

Attending the invitation-only funeral was a unique opportunity that Bryant took very seriously. “I took Mr. Dixon’s test early before I left, so I guessed that it would be okay to miss school."

Bryant works with his father, Anthony, who produces and directs the television ministry as well as heads his own production company, Thaxton Studios. Bryant composed the theme music for the upcoming season of “Palate to Palette with Robert St. John and Wyatt Waters” which airs on Mississippi Public Broadcasting (also produced by Thaxton Studios).

“It was exciting to be a part of the limited press allowed at the funeral,” Bryant said. “There was Fox, NBC, CBS, CNN, The New York Times…. and The Methodist Hour.” The Mississippi-based ministry airs on 16 stations all over the state, in Memphis, Birmingham, Philadelphia, Pa., and in other markets. The Thaxtons have headed production of the broadcast for the past 10 years.

“I was so honored for us to be allowed to attend,” said Bryant’s father, Anthony. “Billy Graham meant a lot to my life and is a model for living with integrity and generosity. Being able to share this experience with my son made it all the more meaningful. It’s something we will never forget.”

Bryant said the thing he liked best was how the use of the tent (along with the music and preaching) harkened back to the early days of the crusades of Billy Graham. “It was, in fact,” Bryant said, "the last crusade for Billy Graham."


One other memorable thing happened for the JA senior who plans to attend Mississippi College as a Presidential Scholar and music major in the fall. With the restrictions imposed by the Secret Service traveling with the President, Bryant only had a brief window of time to slip from the tent to dispose of some trash (near the refreshments area for the press) before hurrying back into the tent before the President entered. As he zipped through the crowd, Bryant lost his balance and plowed right into a man who was deep into conversation with those around him. Bryant said, “I ran into him pretty hard.” Bryant quickly apologized.

The man, startled, turned and flashed a big smile to Bryant before resuming his conversation. Bryant realized then that he had just plowed into Houston mega-church pastor and author Joel Osteen. Bryant emptied his trash, took the pastor's photo, then returned to the platform for the service. “I can honestly say that I ran into Joel Osteen at Billy Graham’s funeral,” said Bryant.


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1. He drove a blue ‘77 Chevy Nova in high school. 2. He played on Jackson Prep’s 1985 and 1986 state championship basketball teams.