Ruth & Billy Graham, a love shared with God

This Valentine's Day, we're celebrating two college sweethearts who loved God and each other for over 63 years. While Billy and Ruth Graham both traveled the world, spending time at home was always important. The mantel behind them bears a German inscription that reads, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Their home was dedicated to God, and this phrase was a powerful reminder.Photo credit: BGEA

Billy Graham always credited his wife Ruth with giving him the strength and support he needed to save souls in every corner of the world.

She was not only his rock, she was an inspiration to her family and community, and a spiritual guide to millions who've read her books.

“Meeting, everywhere we go around the world, people whose lives have been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ, and the stories we hear,” Ruth Bell Graham.

Billy Graham credited one person for his career as an Evangelist and she was his wife, Ruth. She has spent a lifetime in mission work and evangelism, beginning with her birth in China.

She was the daughter of two medical missionaries who would lead her toward a life of Christian service. From those early days in a distant, war-torn country, she wanted to be a missionary. Back in the states, at Wheaton College in Illinois, she met a young preacher who fascinated her. She married Billy Graham in 1943 at Montreat Presbyterian Church and began a life that would change her and the lives of millions around the world.

Ruth often accompanied her husband during the first of his crusades. But early in his career, she confessed having some doubts when the preacher left her at a Chicago hotel while the evangelistic team went sightseeing.

“Just let me go along, I won't bother you men, just turn and I’ll window shop and I’ll meet you somewhere. But they said this is men's day, and off they went, and I watched the car swimming out of sight and I got on my knees and said 'oh God if you'll forgive me from marrying this guy, I’d never do it again. Dumbest prayer I ever prayed.”

While her husband was on the road with an international ministry Ruth literally made a home in Montreat, “You know, I'm away from home about 90-percent of the time, and she has to stay home and take care of the dishes, the children, and the drudgery of housework.”

She designed this house overlooking north Buncombe County and used it as an anchor to keep her family life private and give her husband some peace during his grueling stadium ministry. She raised five children, nearly as a single parent. Her famous husband publicly praised her for a lifetime commitment to his work, “and I think if there is any secret in our marriage, it is Ruth. There's very few women I have ever known like her, I mean she's been a marvelous person to be able to stay here and raise five children. And she's been the one who's done the work and kept up with them and talked with them, and loved them, and taught them the scriptures, and so forth, and she let me travel all over the world preaching the gospel.”

Bill Graham focused many crusade sermons on the importance of the family and the need for a spiritual presence to bind family members together. Graham spent months apart from his family during crusades, and later in life admitted his regrets for his absence, “I regret that I didn't spend more time with my family. I traveled all over the world, I took too many engagements I shouldn't have taken, accepted too many invitations to do various things, that as I look back had very little meaning in my permanent work.”

In the 90’s, Ruth was often confined to a wheelchair and news reports about the aging couple began to focus on their health problems instead of their ministries. Billy began cutting back the number of crusades he would schedule, following his treatment for Parkinson’s disease and encephalitis.

In May of 2000, celebrities joined friends and family of Ruth Graham for her 80th birthday and recognized her compassion and wit. Billy was on the road preparing for a crusade that day and sent her a greeting by satellite.

Billy and Ruth loved each other deeply and were not shy about expressing that love publicly. During the Dallas crusade, the evangelist talked about how the two had found a new fondness for each other late in life, “she and I have had in the last two or three years the greatest romance of our lives. Not physical, but just our love, just to look at each other, just to touch each other, just to talk to each other. And that came as a surprise. We're both in our 80's, and it's a surprise that that is just a joyous time with her. I've kissed her ten-thousand times.”

The Grahams' affection for each other grew from a spiritual understanding of love. They believed their marriage was made in Heaven. On their 60th wedding anniversary, they cuddled and kissed on a comfortable couch in their Montreat home.

“From the very beginning, we have founded our marriage on the Bible, it's our point of reference. And other people can do what they want, but this is our point of reference, it's the Bible and it's meant all the difference in the world to us,” said Ruth.

“It gets better as you get older and the secret of it of course, I think, is the Lord and Christ, if you have him in the center of your lives,” said Billy.

If Billy Graham was one of the most recognized men on earth, then he and his wife probably became one of the most recognized couples. Both say they answered God's call to witness in their own ways and each encouraged the other to follow that call. Both leave a legacy of dedication first to God and then to their marriage and family.

“I didn't feel sorry for myself, I loved staying home, I loved being here with the children and we had wonderful neighbors in Montreat, terrific people, and I have friends in Asheville. It's been a very happy life.”

“It's a mission because that's what God has called me to do, is a mission, to proclaim the gospel to the whole world and I don't go out to preach because of the need as much as I go to fulfill the commandment of Christ, he said 'go' to all of his disciples, and we're to go.”

Billy and Ruth Graham often said that because they were constantly in the spotlight, they spent their lives trying to set an example for Christian love and marriage.

“Ruth and I don’t have a perfect marriage," Billy Graham once said. "But we have a great one." Mrs. Graham went to be with the Lord on June 14, 2007, after more than 63 years of marriage.

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