Ruth Graham, who gave up her aspirations of missionary work in Tibet to marry a suitor who would go on to become the world’s most renowned evangelist, passed away on Thursday at the age of 87.
She passed away at her residence in Little Piney Cove at 5:05 p.m., surrounded by her husband and all five of their children, according to a statement released by Larry Ross, the spokesperson for the Reverend Billy Graham.
“Billy Graham said in a statement, “Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team. No one else could have carried the load that she did. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work throughout the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.
“I am so grateful to the Lord for giving 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.”
Ruth Graham had been bedridden for several months due to degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck, a condition that stemmed from a serious fall from a tree in 1974 while she was fixing a swing for her grandchildren. She had received treatment for pneumonia two weeks ago. At her request, and in consultation with her family, she had discontinued receiving nutrients through a feeding tube for the past few days, as per Ross.
A public memorial service has been scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday at the Montreat Conference Center. A private interment service will be held the following day in Charlotte.
While known as Mrs. Billy Graham, Ruth Graham could rightfully be regarded as the first lady of evangelical Protestantism, but she neither exploited this distinctive position nor sought the limelight.
Behind the scenes, however, she was widely considered to be her husband‘s closest confidant during his remarkable global career – a career second in prominence only to her father, L. Nelson Bell, until his passing in 1973.
“She would assist my father in preparing his sermons, listening attentively. If she noticed anything amiss or something that she believed could be strengthened, she would offer her input to enhance or refine it,” mentioned her son, Franklin, who now leads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “Every person requires such guidance in their life, and she played that role for my father.”
Bell, a missionary doctor, was in charge of the Presbyterian hospital in Qingjiang, China, established by the father of author Pearl Buck. Ruth Graham grew up there and spent three years of high school in what is currently North Korea.
“Ruth Graham practiced in her own life what she observed in her family home – reliance on God in every circumstance, a deep love for His word, placing the concerns of others above her own, and an unyielding spirit conveyed with a warm smile,” noted their youngest daughter, also named Ruth.
Although she was reluctant to be in the public eye herself, Ruth Graham met numerous influential and famous individuals through her husband, who served as a spiritual counselor to presidents for many years. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush referred to her as a “remarkable woman of faith” who “inspired people around the world with her humor, intelligence, elegance, and kindness.”
She encountered Billy Graham while they were both at Wheaton College in Illinois. In his memoirs from 1997, he reminisced, “If I had not fallen in love with Ruth Bell at first sight, I would have been a rare exception. Many of the men at Wheaton thought she was stunning.” Billy Graham pursued her, eventually convincing her to step away from her calling to foreign missions and into marriage after their joint graduation in 1943.