Ruth Graham, evangelist’s wife, dies

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MONTREAT, N.C. (AP) — Ruth Graham, who surrendered dreams of missionary work in Tibet to marry a suitor who became the world’s most renowned evangelist, died yesterday. She was 87.

Mrs. Graham died at 5:05 p.m. at her home at Little Piney Cove, surrounded by her husband and their five children, said a statement released by Larry Ross, Mr. Graham’s spokesman.

Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team,” Mr. Graham stated. “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.”

Mrs. Graham had been bedridden for months with degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck and underwent treatment for pneumonia two weeks ago. At her request, and in consultation with her family, she had stopped receiving nutrients through a feeding tube for the last few days, Mr. Ross said.

A public funeral will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow at the Montreat Conference Center near the couple’s North Carolina home. Mr. Ross says the ceremony will be followed by a private family-only burial on Sunday at the new Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

Behind the scenes, Mrs. Graham was considered her husband’s closest confidant during his spectacular global career — one rivaled only by her father, L. Nelson Bell, until his death in 1973.

Dr. Bell, a missionary physician, headed the Presbyterian hospital in Qingjiang, China, that had been founded by the father of author Pearl Buck. His daughter grew up there and spent three high school years in what is now North Korea.

“Her parents exercised a profound effect upon the development of her character and laid the foundations for who she was,” said the couple’s youngest daughter, also named Ruth.

Her son, Franklin, who is now the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, said his mother “would help my father prepare his messages, listening with an attentive ear, and if she saw something that wasn’t right or heard something that she felt wasn’t as strong as it could be, she was a voice to strengthen this or eliminate that.”

“Every person needs that kind of input in their life and she was that to my father.”

She met Mr. Graham at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Mr. Graham courted her and managed to coax her away from the foreign missions calling and into marriage after both graduated in 1943. In 1945, after a brief stint pastoring a suburban Chicago congregation, he became a roving speaker for the fledgling Youth for Christ organization.

From that point onward she had to endure her husband’s frequent absences, remarking, “I’d rather have a little of Bill than a lot of any other man.”

Mrs. Graham moved the couple into her parents’ home in Montreat, where they had relocated after fleeing wartime China. She stayed in the western North Carolina mountain town the rest of her life.

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