RALEIGH, N.C. – Ruth Graham, who surrendered dreams of missionary work in Tibet to marry a suitor who became the world’s most renowned evangelist, died Thursday. She was 87.
Graham died at 5:05 p.m. at her home at Little Piney Cove, surrounded by her husband and all five of their children, said a statement released by Larry Ross, Billy Graham’s spokesman.
“Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team,” Billy Graham said in a statement. “No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.
“I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we’ve had in the mountains together. We’ve rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven.”
Billy Graham had said Wednesday that Ruth was “close to going home to heaven,” and that the couple would be buried at the recently dedicated Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
“Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side,” the 88-year-old Graham said. “I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College.”
Ruth had degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck and was bedridden at their home in the mountains of western North Carolina.
The site of Graham’s burial once appeared to be the source of some debate within his family. In December, The Washington Post reported that Ned Graham, the couple’s youngest son, opposed burying his parents at the library. He and other members of the family said they preferred a site near Billy and Ruth Graham’s home outside Asheville, in the town of Montreat.
The paper said evangelist Franklin Graham, who has taken over leadership of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for his father, wanted the graves to be at the Charlotte museum.
Graham, who himself suffers from fluid on the brain, prostate cancer and Parkinson’s disease, responded by saying the decision would be his and his wife’s alone.
“Ruth and I appreciate, more than we can express, the prayers and letters of encouragement we have received from people across the country and around the world,” he said Wednesday.
“Our entire family has been home in recent days and it has meant so much to have them at our side during this time. We love each one of them dearly and thank God for them.”
Graham was in Charlotte last month for the opening of the $27 million, 40,000-square-foot museum and evangelistic library. He looked frail, was brought to the state by golf cart and needed Franklin’s help to reach his seat.
He told a crowd that included three former U.S. presidents — Clinton, Carter, and George H.W. Bush — that he was embarrassed by the attention and said there was “too much Billy Graham” in the exhibits.
“This building behind me is just a building,” he said then. “It’s an instrument, a tool for the Gospel. The primary thing is the Gospel of Christ.”
What You Can Learn From the Marriage of Ruth and Billy Graham :
You can learn from the marriage of Ruth and Billy Graham that a marriage between an independent woman and a man with a mission can last a lifetime even though his travel schedule often kept them apart.
Billy Graham aka William Franklin Graham Jr: November 7, 1918 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Ruth McCue Bell: June 10, 1920.
How Billy and Ruth Met:
Ruth and Billy met while he was at Wheaton College. They were introduced by Billy’s friend Johnny Streater in November 1940. According to a Timeline provided by UNC-TV, Ruth and Billy’s relationship nearly ended in April 1941, but after Ruth told Billy she loved him, he proposed in June 1941.
Billy and Ruth were married on August 13, 1943.
Ruth and Billy have five children and according to the August 14, 2006 edition of Newsweek, “dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.”
Virginia Leftwich “GiGi” Graham Tchvidjian: Born September 1945. GiGi is an author and is married to Clinic psycholgois Dr. Stephan Tchividjian.
Anne Graham Lotz: Born May 1948. Anne is an author and found of AnGel Ministries. She married Dan Lotz.
Ruth Bell “Bunny” Graham: Born December 1950. Author and founder of Ruth Graham & Friends ministry.
William Franklin Graham III: Born July 14, 1952 in Asheville, North Carolina. Reverend Franklin Graham is the founder of an international relief agency, Samaritan’s Purse and an evangelist. He is married to Jane Austin Cunningham.
Ned Edman Graham: Born May 1958. Ned is married to Carol. They are the caretakers of Billy and Ruth in addition to having a Bible and training ministry in China, East Gate Ministries.
Lifestyle and Residence:
Although during their marriage, Billy often traveled as much as six months out of a year, they did travel a great deal together. They traveled around the world twice together.
Their first home was an upstairs bedroom in Ruth’s parents’ home. Since 1956 Ruth and Billy have lived in Montreat, North Carolina in a modest log home in a remote area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They named their home “Little Piney Cove.”
Quotes About Ruth and Billy Graham:
Ruth reflecting on their life together: “I didn’t know when I married Bill all that lay ahead; I wouldn’t have had the nerve to marry him. No, I had no inclination of what was going to happen in the future.”
Ruth when asked if she had ever considered divorce: “Divorce? No. Murder? Yes.”
Anne Graham Lotz about her parents: “One of the most precious things is how Daddy has fallen in love with Mother all over again. He can’t take his eyes off of her. He’s so in love with her.”
Billy about life with Ruth after retirement: “At night we have time together; we pray together and read the Bible together every night. It’s a wonderful period of life for both of us. We’ve never had a love like we have now — we feel each other’s hearts.”
Ned Graham: “There never would have been a Billy Graham without a Ruth Graham.”
Ruth Graham was a strong, independent woman who could be a leader herself. She had dreams of being a missionary. She was the daughter of missionaries and was herself born on the mission field in China. She grew up in China and Korea. But she obviously felt that God wanted her to marry Billy Graham. So she gave up that dream of being a missionary to Tibet.
But God so greatly blessed her for following what He had in mind for her. Billy Graham is undoubtedly one of the greatest evangelists that has ever lived. He has been able to reach millions of people. And God wanted her to be his partner, to run his home and raise Godly children. He wanted her to be the other half of a man whose life was devoted to spreading God’s word. God put her strength to work the way He wanted her to use it. And she was willing to do what God directed her to do. She was a partner in building one of the greatest ministries that’s ever been. She was his greatest supporter, encourager, and his love of a lifetime.
Our pastor is always saying that we can do things that seem very good to an observer, but if God did not direct us to do that thing, then it is wrong. Being a foreign missionary is a very good thing….unless that isn’t what God wants you to do with your life.
Ruth Graham was once asked about missing Billy, since he was gone 6-7 months of the year. She said, “Five months with Billy Graham is like a year with any other man.”
Guys….wouldn’t you like to have a wife that felt that way about you?