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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Ruth Bell Graham laid to rest as her life is celebrated by husband, children and community of friends
All five Graham siblings participate in funeral program and greet the mourners; All 19 grandchildren serve as pallbearers

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

Hundreds fill the Anderson Auditorium to pay tribute to Ruth Bell Graham

MONTREAT, NORTH CAROLINA (ANS) -- The 2,000-seat Anderson Auditorium at the Montreat Conference Center was filled to capacity with family and friends from the local community as Dr. Billy Graham, his children and grandchildren celebrated the life of Ruth Bell Graham at her public funeral yesterday.

A lone bagpiper played at the start of the srevice.

The day began with a procession from the funeral home, where hundreds of local residents -- from families with little children to the frail and elderly -- lined the route to pay their respects to Mrs. Graham. Some stood with hands on hearts; others, including ranks of law enforcement and fire and rescue personnel, gave crisp salutes.

The funeral service began with a song by a special Memorial Chorale, swelled to a total of 70 local volunteers from the 20-member Montreat College choir, which honored Mrs. Grahamís memory with several musical selections. Afterward, Dr. Richard White, Mrs. Grahamís long-time pastor at Montreat Presbyterian Church, welcomed attendees.

"We gather today to say good-bye to truly a good servant, Ruth Bell Graham, but we also gather to say we believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord," he said before praying, "Our hearts are heavy with loss, yet we dare rejoice, for she is with You."

All of the Graham children participated in the funeral, with eldest daughter Virginia 'Gigi' reading one of the familyís favorite selections from Mrs. Grahamís poetry, appropriate to her death, which 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."

Mrs. Grahamís daughter, Ruth, referenced her motherís childhood in China as preparation for the ministry she would have as the wife of a globe-trotting evangelist and mother of their five children. Their youngest son, Ned, read a selection favored by Mrs. Graham from a book of Puritan prayers, and his brother Franklin recalled some special memories of his mother.

"Mama was a lot of fun, but she also believed the Bible, lived the Bible and taught the Bible," Franklin said. "She believed Jesus Christ died for our sins, that He is in Heaven and will come back some day.

"Mama lived what she believed," he continued. "The mama we saw at home was the one the world saw -- there werenít 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 Iím going to miss you terribly."

Daughter Anne spoke of her motherís love for their father and how she taught the children to love him, despite his long absences. "She loved our Daddy, but greater was her love for God. She taught us to love our Daddy and to love Jesus."

Anne then read a portion of Scripture from Romans chapter eight, prefaced by a note she found written by her mother and taped in that place in her motherís Bible, "Perhaps today some word will reach us that prepares us for our tomorrow," she read. "Letís not miss that word."

Rosa Montgomerty, Ruth Graham's sister, recalled their childhood in China
Mrs. Grahamís older sister Rosa Montgomery also shared family memories, bringing a chuckle to the crowd as she stated that she and Ruth were both "made in China." Rosa had spent much of the last six months with Ruth reminiscing about their happy childhood. "Werenít we lucky to have such good parents?" she said they agreed, and spoke as well of Ruthís adventurous spirit, "If there was ever any damage done anywhere, you could be sure that Ruth was in the middle of it."

As his children finished speaking, Mr. Graham rose from his seat in the front row to bring an unscheduled greeting to the crowd. "I want to welcome all of you and thank you for coming," he said. "Ruth was an incredible woman; I wish you could look in her casket because she is so beautiful. I sat there a long time last night looking at her, and I prayed, because I knew she had a great reception in heaven.

"I wish I could stay and visit with each of you but Iíve got to go to Charlotte, where we will bury Ruth at the Library, and my own strength is limited," Mr. Graham added before joking, "God bless all these grandchildren -- some of them I havenít seen in a long time and some Iíve never seen."

Upon leaving the service Mr. Graham said his sense of loss is beginning to sink in. He commented on the beauty of the service and the flowers, and said that he was pleased with the outpouring of public love and support and has been encouraged by the presence of his family at this time.

In his meditation, Dr. White spoke about sharing communion with the Graham family last January when Mrs. Graham was gravely ill, after which one of the children remarked how wonderful it was they could have this last time of communion together. He said that later Ruth sat up in her bed and said, "What is this, some kind of last rites?" and went on to live five more months. "That was classic Ruth Graham," he said.

"If youíre here today and say, 'Ruth Graham was a great woman,' youíve missed the point of her life," Dr. White added. "The reason Ruth Graham was a great woman is because she had a great savior and a great love for Jesus Christ."

Dr. White spoke on Jesusí strikingly odd response of tears and anger at the funeral of his friend, Lazarus. "The tears were the tears of God for us -- your sadness touches Jesus; He knows your sorrows," he said, further explaining Jesusí anger was directed at death. "Jesus knows we were created to live, not die. Though we are powerless, He is able to do something about it."

Toward the end of the service, Franklin Graham thanked the local volunteers for all their hard work in preparation for the service, adding that his father wanted him to thank his staff, who had worked so many months taking care of Mama. "They loved her, stayed up with her and helped her so many times," he said. "Thank you for the love you showed my mother."

Following the service, the five Graham siblings and their spouses remained behind to greet the public, before accompanying the funeral coach to Charlotte. Mrs. Grahamís remains were scheduled to lie in repose overnight at the newly dedicated Billy Graham Library, before being buried at a private, family-only interment ceremony today (Sunday) at the foot of a cross-shaped walkway in the adjacent Prayer Garden.

According to the Charlotte Observer, in an article titled "A time to adore Ruth," the funeral service "began with the solemn wailing of bagpipes and ended with Billy Graham, her husband of almost 64 years, wiping away a tear just after her plywood casket was placed in the hearse."

 

In between, the newspaper reports, "Saturday's funeral service for Ruth Bell Graham was almost a festive affair, with her grown children and her 89-year-old sister celebrating a woman they knew as feisty, funny and full of love for Jesus."

 

The newspaper says: "Hardly anybody mentioned what the 2,000 or so mourners already knew: that Ruth Graham, who died Thursday at 87, was also the supportive wife behind the world-famous evangelist, raising their kids in the N.C. mountains and enduring some lonely times so he could go off and preach to millions around the world."

 

Ruth Graham was remembered as a lover of animals -- except for that rattlesnake she once tried to catch with a marshmallow fork, the newspaper said.

 

The Charlotte Observer says that Anne Graham Lotz, an evangelist in neraby Raleigh, recalled Ruth Graham as "a spirit-filled mother who taught her children how to insert their own names into biblical passages to make the messages more personal."

 

Franklin and Billy Graham arrive at the
funeral service.

Franklin Graham, who was a a cigarette-smoking rebel during his teen years, delighted the crowd with anecdotes about the lengths his mother would go to get him out of bed in the morning.

 

Once, he said, "Mama, the human alarm clock," as he called her, got him up by emptying a can of his cigarette butts and ashes on his head. Another time, after he'd locked the door, she did it by spraying cold water through his bedroom window, the newspaper stated.

 

The Charlotte Observer also said that Dr.Billy Graham was not scheduled to speak, but when he arrived at the churchlike Montreat Conference Center, where the service was held, he let it be known that he wanted to say a few words.

 

The newspaper reported that Dr. Graham, now 88, got up from the front row of the chestnut pews, took hold of a microphone, and thanked everybody for coming, telling them he wished they could gaze at her one last time -- like he had Friday night at the funeral home in Asheville.

 

"She's so beautiful," Graham said. "I sat there a long time last night, looking at her. And I prayed because I know she had a great reception in heaven."

 

Ruth Bell Graham lies in repose at Anderson Auditorium at the Montreat Conference Center in Montreat Saturday.

Dr. Graham, whose voice was filled with grief, managed to contribute something to the light mood that characterized much of the service, the newspaper said.

 

"God bless all these grandchildren," he said about the 19 young men and women nearby, all of them wearing white carnations. "Some of them I haven't seen in a long time. Some of them, I've never seen."

 

After the 90-minute service, those grandchildren served as pallbearers, escorting the casket outside as Dr. Graham, gripping a walker, followed. As he left the building, he stopped long enough to wipe away a tear.

 

Franklin, Anne and the other Graham children stayed behind, greeting mourners -- some famous, some everyday people -- as they exited the five doors.

 

Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of former President Lyndon Johnson, attended with her husband, former Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va.

 

"She had a wonderful sense of humor," LBJ's daughter told the Observer. The Grahams were frequent visitors to the White House and the Johnson Ranch in Texas in the 1960s.

 

"She once said 'You really have to believe in miracles -- just look at the change in some members of our family' " -- an obvious reference to Franklin Graham, who cleaned up his act enough to become an evangelist and head of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

 

Also in the pews: Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.; AOL co-founder Steve Case; and movie actress Andie MacDowell, who lives in Asheville and attended Ruth Graham's 80th birthday party as a friend of the oldest Graham daughter, Gigi Graham Foreman.

 

MacDowell said of Ruth Graham. "A very wise woman. I don't know how Billy could have had any of those achievements without Ruth."

 

The newspaper said it was a long day for the Graham family.

 

At 8:15 a.m., the funeral cortege left Morris Funeral Home in Asheville. As the procession made its way to Montreat, state troopers, firefighters and police officers lined the route, standing at attention, their heads bowed.

 

Graham's casket, built by three Louisiana State Penitentiary inmates whose names are burned on the side, was then taken to the center's Anderson Auditorium, where the service was held.

 

A white-gloved N.C. honor guard from the Buncombe County Sheriff's Office stood watch for the next few hours.

 

"I can't even tell you what an honor this is, to be here with the body," said Detective Rosemary Kuykendall, who said she never talked with Ruth Graham during her life, but did get a wave from her once.

 

The 2 p.m. service was traditional Presbyterian, presided over by the Rev. Richard White, pastor of Montreat Presbyterian Church, where Ruth Graham used to teach Sunday school.

 

The newspaper stated: "Billy Graham was also raised Presbyterian, but became a Baptist preacher. Ruth Graham stuck with her denomination -- her parents were Presbyterian medical missionaries in China -- and refused to be baptized by immersion, the way Baptists do."

 

In his message, Pastor White saluted Ruth Graham's "indomitable spirit, her clever wit, her love of life" -- but mostly her devout devotion to Jesus Christ.

 

Rosa Montgomery, Ruth Graham's older sister, repeatedly cracked up the crowd with stories about growing up in China, where Ruth attracted all manner of animals -- including mosquitoes and bedbugs.

 

"If any bedbugs were in the neighborhood, they'd crawl over me to get to her," said Montgomery.

 

The older sister said Ruth was so religious, even from girlhood, that she once prayed to God to let her become a martyr within the year.

 

"I got under the covers and prayed, 'Lord, please don't listen to her, she's just a little girl,' " said Montgomery, who also produced howls of laughter with her stories of Ruth's courtship by Billy when they were all students at Wheaton College outside Chicago in the 1940s.

 

After the Dr. Graham eased into a black sedan to escort his wife's body to Charlotte, where Mrs. Graham will be buried today (Sunday) in a private service on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library.

 

A book of poems by Ruth Bell Graham was given to each of the mourners and her poem about dying was read by daughter Gigi.

 

"Time to Adore," which was also printed on the back of the program, is about how earthly death leads to eternal life with Jesus.

 

"And when I die," it begins. "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. Anticipating joy is itself a joy ... These moments of transition will, for me, be time to adore."

 

A private interment service will be held today (Sunday) in the Prayer Garden on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. 

 

** This article was prepared from a media release made available to the media and from an article appearing in the Charlotte Observer newspaper which have been adapted for use by this news service. Every effort has been made to maintain the accuracy of the original reporting.


** Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.

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