Obituary for Ruth Bell Graham
Ruth Bell Graham, the Rev. Billy Graham’s wife and confidant who for more than 60 years devoted herself to his career as the 20th century’s most enduring evangelist, died yesterday at her home in Montreat, N.C. She was 87.
Her death was announced by a spokesman for Mr. Graham. She had degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck and had been bedridden and recently comatose at the Grahams’ home in the mountains of western North Carolina, the spokesman said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Graham said that his wife was “close to going home to heaven” and that she would be buried at the recently dedicated Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Mrs. Graham was the author or co-author of 14 books, including collections of poetry and an autobiographical scrapbook, “Footprints of a Pilgrim.” In 1996, she and her husband were each awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for “contributions to morality, racial equality, family, philanthropy and religion.”
But like many women of her generation, Mrs. Graham felt strongly that it was her duty to place her husband and family first, no matter the personal sacrifice. Before she married Mr. Graham in August 1943, she wrote: “If I marry Bill, I must marry him with my eyes open. He will be increasingly burdened for lost souls and increasingly active in the Lord’s work. After the joy and satisfaction of knowing that I am his by rights, and his forever, I will slip into the background.”
“In short,” she added, “be a lost life. Lost in Bill’s.”
Mrs. Graham counseled Mr. Graham and helped him with his writing. She seldom complained, even when ill. But she did, from time to time, articulate her sense of loss when her husband left for an evangelical crusade. She could rarely go with him — she had five children to bring up and did not believe in delegating that responsibility — and she dreaded being away from him for weeks.
She described her feelings in a poem quoted by Patricia Cornwell (who went on to become a noted crime writer) in a 1997 biography of Mrs. Graham. It read in part:
Then the goodbyes come
like a small death,
the closing of a door.
Ruth Bell Graham was born on June 20, 1920, to Presbyterian missionaries in northern China. Her father, Dr. Lemuel Nelson Bell, ran the Presbyterian hospital in Qingjiang; her mother was the former Virginia Leftwich.
In his 1979 book, “Bill Graham: A Parable of American Righteousness,” Marshall Frady wrote that when Ruth was a child, she “used to pray every night that the Lord would let her be a martyr before the end of the year,” and that she would be “captured by bandits and beheaded, killed for Jesus’ sake.”
Ruth was sent to what is now North Korea in her high school years and then, at 19, to Wheaton College, near Chicago. Her dream was to become a missionary in either China or Tibet. But her plans changed when she met Billy Graham, who was also a student at Wheaton.
“I have just met a wonderful girl,” Mr. Graham wrote to his mother, as quoted by Mr. Frady. “Her name is Ruth Bell. She looks a little like you and even her voice sounds like you. This is the girl I am going to marry.”
She was an attractive young woman who wore lipstick, she later explained, because “Mother had always hoped we wouldn’t look like the pickings out of a missionary barrel.”
“It didn’t seem to me a credit to Christ to be drab.”
After marrying in 1943, the couple lived for a time in the Chicago area, then moved to Montreat, where her parents had settled after they fled China as the Communists rose to power. She remained in the town the rest of her life, eventually making a rustic mountainside home called Little Piney Cove the family’s homestead, where she died.
Besides her husband, Mrs. Graham is survived by their children, Virginia, Anne, Ruth, William Franklin III and Nelson.
Alone for much of the time while her husband was away, Mrs. Graham went to great lengths to keep her mind sharp. In her biography, Ms. Cornwell wrote that “it was common for her to have 20 or 30 books scattered around the house, each in some stage of being read.”
Ms. Cornwell added: “Finishing a book just because she had started it, she once said, ‘was like going into the pantry and thinking you had to eat all the peas before you could open anything else.’ ”
Mrs. Graham was at peace with the life she had chosen. “I knew from the very beginning that I would never be first place in his life,” she told The Ladies Home Journal. “Christ would be first.”
But she was also known to be independent-minded. Although she was the wife of a famous Baptist minister, she remained a loyal Presbyterian all her life.
Obituary Credit: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/15/obituaries/15graham.html
A note from Martin Oaks Cemetery & Crematory:
We posted about Ruth Bell Graham’s headstone inscription, please check it out!
RIP Ruth Bell Graham