She passed away late Thursday, June 14, at her mountaintop home at Little Piney Cove in Montreat, North Carolina, "surrounded by her husband and all five children," the BGEA said. She was 87.
A public funeral service to honor her was scheduled for Saturday, June 16, in Anderson Auditorium at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat, North Carolina. Details for the service were to be released later.
In a statement, evangelist Graham described his wife as his "life partner" and added that "we were called by God as a team." He stressed that,"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."
The frail Graham, who has been coping with several ailments himself, said he was "so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we’ve had in the mountains together."
He added that, "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."
Ruth Bell was born June 10, 1920, in Qingjiang, Kiangsu, China, as the daughter of medical missionaries L. Nelson and Virginia Leftwich Bell. She attended high school in Pyongyang, now North Korea and first came to the United States at the age of seven.
She returned to the US when she was 17 to attend Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill where she was soon introduced to “Preacher,” the nickname other students gave the strapping Billy Graham from Charlotte, North Carolina. They were married in August, 1943, following their graduating together that June.
While that changed her plans to step in the foot steps her missionary parents, behind the scenes, she was considered her husband’s closest confidant during his spectacular global career, including to Communist nations. Millions accepted Christ as personal "Savior and Lord," during these outreaches also known as ‘crusades’, BGEA officials have said.
"She 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," said her son, Franklin, who is now the head of the BGEA in published remarks.
In his books he also describes her as a woman who kept the family together while his father was away.
"Every person needs that kind of input in their life and she was that to my father," Franklin Graham said.
Ruth Graham was the author or co-author of 14 books, including collections of poetry and the autobiographical scrapbook "Footprints of a Pilgrim."
In 1996, the Grahams were each awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for "outstanding and lasting contributions to morality, racial equality, family, philanthropy, and religion." That year it became clear that Ruth Graham was already in frail health after suffering spinal meningitis in 1995. The condition was exacerbated by a degenerative back condition that began with a fall out of a tree while helping a grandchild fix a swing in 1974 that resulted in chronic back pain for many years, friends said.
"Bedridden or wheelchair-bound since the late 1990s, Mrs. Graham wasn’t able to accompany her husband during his last few years of ministry, but was always a continued source of inspiration and support for him through her prayers and wise Biblical counsel," the BGEA said.
Ruth Graham is survived by her husband Billy; daughters Virginia, Anne Morrow, and Ruth Bell; sons William Franklin, III, and Nelson Edman; 19 grandchildren; and numerous great-grandchildren. All childrean are active in Christian activities, while son Franklin has taken over his father’s ministry.
Billy Graham said his wife’s final resting place will be at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway in the Prayer Garden on the grounds of the recently dedicated Library bearing his name adjacent to his ministry headquarters in Charlotte.
Earlier this year the Grahams agreed together that they would be buried side-by-side at the Library, a decision made by the two of them alone, the BGEA added. In a first reaction United States President George W. Bush said he and his wife Laure were "deeply saddened" by the news of her death. "As the wife of the world’s most beloved evangelist, she inspired people around the world with her humor, intelligence, elegance, and kindness," Bush added.
Others, including television evangelist Pat Robertson described her as "a tower of strength for her husband who has been the pre-eminent evangelist of the 20th century."