Ruth Graham's family remembers their mother's life


MONTREAT, N.C. — Hundreds of friends and family members packed the Montreat Conference Center June 16 to remember Ruth Graham and hear all five of her children — as well as her husband in an unscheduled moment — recount stories about her devotion to God and family.

The public service was held at the 2,000-seat facility, which was filled to capacity. Prior to the service hundreds of people also lined the route from the funeral home to the conference center to pay their respects. The next day she was buried in a private ceremony.

Ruth Graham's longtime pastor, Richard White of Montreat Presbyterian Church, encouraged attendees at the public service to keep their focus on Christ.

"If you're here today and say, 'Ruth Graham was a great woman,' you've missed the point of her life," White said. "The reason Ruth Graham was a great woman is because she had a great Savior and a great love for Jesus Christ."

Graham died June 14 at age 87 surrounded by husband Billy Graham and their children. The Grahams were married 63 years and were just two months shy of another anniversary. Toward the end of the service, after all five children had finished speaking, the longtime evangelist, who is 88, rose from his front-row seat to address the crowd.

"Ruth was an incredible woman. I wish you could look in her casket because she is so beautiful," he said. "I sat there a long time last night looking at her, and I prayed, because I knew she had a great reception in heaven."

Ruth Graham composed many poems, one of which was read at the service by her daughter, Virginia (Gigi). The poem begins, "And when I die, I hope my soul ascends slowly, so that I may watch the earth receding out of sight, its vastness growing smaller as I rise, savoring its recession with delight."

Said one of her sons, evangelist Franklin Graham, "Mama was a lot of fun, but she also believed the Bible, lived the Bible and taught the Bible. She believed Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He is in heaven and will come back someday.

"Mama lived what she believed," he continued. "The Mama we saw at home was the one the world saw — there weren't two Ruth Grahams. Mama, thank you for your example, your love, your wit, your humor, your craziness — I love you for all of it and I'm going to miss you terribly."

Anne, another daughter, recounted her mother's devotion to her husband, who often was on the road preaching.

"She loved our daddy, but greater was her love for God. She taught us to love our daddy and to love Jesus," she said.

Graham's son Ned read from a book of Puritan prayers, which his mother enjoyed. Graham's daughter Ruth talked about how her mother's childhood in China — she was the daughter of missionaries — prepared her for a life with a traveling husband.

Graham's older sister, Rosa Montgomery, joked how she and Ruth were "made in China" and told how they spent the final few months reminiscing about their childhood.

"Weren't we lucky to have such good parents?" she asked.

Graham was buried the next day in a private service on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, N.C. She was buried in a simple plywood coffin that was made by prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. Franklin Graham learned of the coffins while visiting the facility in 2005 and requested two of them for his parents. They are lined with a mattress pad and cost around $200 to make, and the names of the prisoners who built them are burned into the wood. Many of the prisoners now are committed Christians and pray over the coffins, according to a press release.

"You are such a wonderful family — she loved you all," Billy Graham told those assembled at the private service. "The Bible says the Lord has prepared a place for us and I know He has prepared a home for her — I hope she saves a room for me.

"I believe the Lord has brought us to this point. I am looking forward to the day when we'll have the next service here," he added, referring to his own.

Ruth Graham was buried at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway. At the end of the graveside service, Billy Graham took a red rose, kissed it and prayed silently for several minutes before placing it on the casket. Each of the five children also placed a red rose on the casket. After the guests left, the children and their father remained at the casket several more moments for personal reflection.