BORN: June 10, 1920, in Qingjiang, Kiangsu, China
DIED: June 14, 2007, in Montreat, N.C., at age 87
FAMILY: Married Billy Graham August 13, 1943;
Children — Franklin, Nelson, Virginia (Gigi), Anne and Ruth
OTHER ACCOMPLISHMENTS: In 1966 she founded the Ruth and Billy Graham Children’s Health Center in Asheville, N.C., and in 1996 she received the Congressional Gold Medal alongside her husband.
Ruth Bell Graham, alongside her husband, evangelist Billy Graham, affected the world for Christ in more ways than anyone could ever estimate. Her prayers, writings, philanthropic work and the influence she had on the ministry of her husband and children were a direct result of how she fed her own spiritual life. In addition to scripture, prayer and other spiritual disciplines, she constantly fed her spirit with music.
The gospel music community never had a more enthusiastic cheerleader and supporter than Ruth Graham. Born to medical missionaries in China, music was always a part of her home environment growing up. That musical legacy continued throughout her life as she raised her own family.
Since gospel music impacted this influential household so profoundly, we could think of no better way to honor Ruth Graham than through the words and remembrances of her own family. All of her children are serving in ministry and here they share a few treasured musical memories…
My mother loved music. But not just any kind of music. She loved the traditional hymns of our faith. When we sang from the hymnbook in church, she never looked at the words … she knew every verse by heart. She had a particular affinity for the Welsh revival hymns, sung by a men’s choir. Every Sunday morning, the first thing I would hear would be a men’s chorus singing the old Welsh hymns, piped through the intercom system at our house.
Towards the end of her life, when she became bedridden, I shared with her the music of Fernando Ortega. She became as hooked as I am, and played it almost 24/7. In fact, Daddy bought her a surround-sound stereo for her bedroom, just so Fernando’s exquisite music would wrap her in worship. One of my sweetest memories is of checking on my mother in the middle of the night, and hearing Fernando singing in the shadows of her room. Our favorite hymn would always be his particular soulful rendition of “Give Me Jesus” — a hymn that was sung at her funeral service by a local choir.
In the moments before my mother moved to our Father’s House, our family surrounded her bed and sang,“Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” It was the testimony of her life, passed down to children and grandchildren, that “morning by morning, new mercies I see. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
My mother had many favorite hymns, but one that I remember her singing is “How Can It Be?” We had a piano in our home and I can remember my mother going into the living room after supper and playing some of the great hymns of the church. The house was filled with her music, and it caused all who were there to think on the things of the Lord. I have memories of my mother’s parents, who had been medical missionaries to China, coming over on Sunday evenings. Often other retired missionaries would gather around my mother’s piano and they would have a hymn sing. In the last years of my mother’s life, when it was difficult to travel, she enjoyed being home and watching the Gaither Homecoming DVDs. When she became bedridden, this music brought great joy and peace to her and she listened by the hours. From my boyhood days up until she went to heaven a few short years ago, my memories are filled with Mama’s music.
I remember as a young girl, being awakened on Sunday morning to George Beverly Shea singing the old hymns. Sunday evening, after a pick-up supper of leftovers, we played Bible trivia games and sang hymns with my maternal grandparents … a tradition held over from their days as missionaries in China.
Hymns were an important part of our family growing up. Although Mother loved the piano, and had a lovely baby grand in our living room that she kept tuned just in case a guest came who played, she only played a few hymns by ear for her own enjoyment. I remember many times, usually late in the evening, hearing her play such old hymns as “Speak, Lord, in the Stillness” or John Newton’s “Come My Soul, Your Plea Prepare.”
She had a difficult time with many of the modern choruses ... [but in response to music that was not her preference] her remark was, “you don’t have to like worms to go fishing.”
Mother’s parents were musical — my grandfather Bell played the piano by ear. Both my grandparents had lovely, strong voices. When she was growing up in China, music was an integral part of their family. Consequently, our home was filled with music. When Mother had our home built, she put in an intercom system — way before iPods and Bose! — so that she could have music playing throughout the house. And each Christmas morning we awakened to “Joy to the World” sounding from the speakers. We grew to love the hymns.
As a young girl, I often would fall asleep with Mother playing the piano softly in the living room as she played her favorite hymns. We grew up with a deep love and appreciation for the hymns — it’s where we learned so much of our theology.
When my mother’s mother, Virginia Bell, was nearing Home, Mother made a cassette tape of music for her to play to help her look forward to heaven. On it was one of her favorites, “The King Is Coming.” It was a comfort to her.