MONTREAT, 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.
Ruth Graham died at 5:05 p.m. EDT at her home at Little Piney Cove, surrounded by Billy Graham and all five of their children.
“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.”
Ruth Graham had been bedridden for months with degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck – the result of a serious fall from a tree in 1974 while fixing a swing for grandchildren – 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.
A public memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Montreat Conference Center. A private interment service will be held the next day in Charlotte.
Ruth Graham will be buried at the new Billy Graham Library in Charlotte – a source of apparent discord within the family last year. This week, Billy Graham said he and Ruth had decided “after much prayer and discussion” they would be laid to rest at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway in the library’s prayer garden.
As Mrs. Billy Graham, Ruth Graham could lay claim to being the first lady of evangelical Protestantism, but neither exploited that unique status nor lusted for the limelight.
Behind the scenes, however, she 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.
Though the wife of a famous Baptist minister, the independent-minded Ruth Graham declined to undergo baptism by immersion and remained a loyal, lifelong Presbyterian. When in Montreat, a town built around a Presbyterian conference center, Billy Graham would attend the local Presbyterian church where his wife often taught the college-age Sunday School class.