by Tiffany Jothen
(UPDATE: This story originally ran in May 2012. Pastor Fleet passed away on Jan. 30, 2013. He will be greatly missed by the Charlotte, N.C., community.)
There’s a calm about him. Maybe it’s the rocking chair he sits in, hands folded in his lap and a big grin on his face, or maybe it’s the wood-burning stove and old checkerboard to his right. He’s not very tall, but looks sharp in a suit and light blue tie that complement his white hair.
Fleet Kirkpatrick – better known as “Pastor Fleet” – is a staple at the Billy Graham Library. At 81, he has about 60 years of pastoring under his belt and still pastors at Church of the Open Door off Park Road in Charlotte. He’s been there for 51 years and outlived many of his parishioners.
“You can get refired, but not retired,” he said.
Pastor Fleet is indeed fired up for the Lord. On a cloudy afternoon at the Library, he leans a cane against his rocking chair and calls the female volunteers “darlin’” as they pass by. When you look at him, you know he’s happy, and when you talk to him, you are, too.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anybody that’s such a blessing,” Library volunteer Lois Marks said.
Visitors used to ask Lois if that was Billy Graham sitting in the rocking chair, and at first, Lois saw him as a bit of a distraction. But that was before she knew him. Today, she’s quick to comment on his “beautiful attitude” and love for the Lord. She recalls one of Fleet’s fellow nursing home guests telling her how Fleet led him to Christ.
Lois has also visited Fleet’s church on more than one occasion.
“For a little person, not to mention he’s not in very good health, … he sings beautifully and with depth,” she said.
Pastor Fleet has made a name for himself; he’s known around the Library as that sweet old man who occasionally breaks out into song. His favorite hymn: “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
Volunteer David Fellows, a retired minister of music, frequently joins in. “He’s a bass and I’m a tenor,” he said.
For David, 74, Fleet is proof that age has nothing to do with sharing the love of God. “If he can do it, I think the Lord and I can do it, too,” he said.
Then there’s Fleet’s personal prayer ministry with Library volunteers and visitors alike.
“He’ll pray for you on the spot,” David said. “You say, ‘My hip hurts,’ and he’ll pray, ‘Oh, dear Lord …’”
Fleet gave his life to Christ at 19 years old. He attended Columbia Bible College, now Columbia International University in South Carolina, then headed to Charlotte College, which later became the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He also spent time at Davidson College.
Shortly after the Library opened in 2007, Fleet started visiting several times a week.
“This is my home,” he said. “I feel more at home here among the people, working with God’s people. I have a great hunger and desire to reach the lost for Christ.”
A native Charlottean, he grew up near the Grahams’ original homeplace and knew Billy Graham’s mother, Morrow. Like most people, he calls her Mother Graham.
“Billy was away on Crusades a lot,” he said, but Fleet was in a Bible class with his sister and remembers the family fondly. He calls Billy “a great man of God.”
Fleet also has an audience, usually one person at a time getting his advice, talking about God or requesting prayer. Sometimes they swap stories about their families. Fleet became an official volunteer after completing the training and received a gold nametag that says “Pastor Fleet.”
“I volunteer right here at this chair,” Fleet said. Library staff put the rocking chair there for him and added a cushion for comfort.
“I heard this a long time ago: ‘The sin of the desert is to know where the water is and not tell it,’” Fleet said. “And we know who the living water is, it’s the Lord Jesus.”
Fleet remembers one doctor with a terminal illness who was saved right there at the Library two months before his death. He went home and “couldn’t keep his mouth shut about Jesus.”
A few months ago, Fleet also fell ill, and many people thought he was near death. Library volunteers crowded his hospital room at any given time.
He still has health concerns – one kidney that’s not working and another working about 25 percent – but makes the drive from his retirement home to the Library whenever he can. He’s led many people to Christ.
“I do believe I’m here because the Lord wants me here,” he said, “and I can think of no other place I’d rather be than to be right here with God’s people, working with them and … telling the people about our Blessed Savior.”
During the interview, in true Fleet fashion, he sings a verse from another favorite hymn, “Until Then,” his voice ringing out through the bookstore and carrying into the Library lobby.
“But until then my heart will go on singing,
Until then with joy I’ll carry on,
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me home.”