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Remembering Ruth

"Remembering Ruth" Continued...

Issue: "The 2007 Books Issue," June 30, 2007

The service itself-both faithful and feisty-painted an accurate picture of the woman whose memory so many had come to honor. From a robust Doxology to the bagpipe-accompanied 23rd Psalm, and even with George Beverly Shea's solo in between, traditionalism was dominant. The audience loved the hearty storytelling from a variety of siblings and children; if Ruth's older sister Rosa went on a bit long, listeners didn't seem as worried as the schedulers were.

And if biblical evangelism was the steady theme of the Grahams' long lives, no message could have been more pertinent than the straightforward warning from the Grahams' pastor, Richard White: "If you leave here today thinking Ruth Graham was a great woman, then you will have missed the main point of her life. Ruth Graham knew herself to be a sinner who needed the grace of a great God."

As the service ended, the Grahams' five children, with their spouses, stationed themselves at the auditorium's several doors to greet visitors. And as they left, some remembered-as had WORLD writer and one-time Graham staffer Ed Plowman-Mrs. Graham's aversion in any big event to riding with her husband in the lead car. "He was often driven in limousines, especially in other countries," Plowman recalled, "usually accompanied by a church leader or two, an aide or two, and sometimes a state official. Ruth insisted on riding in the bus or van with the rest of the party. She didn't want to take up space in the car that could be used by a national leader or other VIP. Ruth enjoyed being with us common people."

On this particular Saturday, though, Ruth Bell Graham was in the lead car-a black Cadillac hearse on its way to the newly prepared gravesites at the recently dedicated Graham museum in Charlotte. This time, her famous husband was in the supporting role, a lonely passenger in the limousine that was just behind.

Woman of letters

Ruth Graham learned from great writers past and present, and taught a few lessons all her own

By Stephen Griffith

When I asked Ruth Graham on our first meeting to name her favorite book, without hesitation she answered, "Men of the Covenant." Surprised, I responded, "Do you mean Alexander Smellie's book about the persecution of the Scottish Church?" She just smiled and I suddenly realized it was more a test for me than for her. We became fast friends.

Over the years I served as her book developer, editor, agent, and occasionally as the collator of her notes into rough chapters. We spent many hours talking books, poetry, theology, as well as details of her life. She also always asked about, and showed interest in, the mundane details of my life.

I spent many hours rummaging through her famous pack-rat attic looking for notes, photos, and other odds-and-ends. When it became difficult for her to climb the stairs, she would sit on the bottom step trumpeting instructions and asking for a play-by-play. She only asked that I not look through one particular box: the one containing love letters between Ruth and Billy. I never yielded to the temptation.

I realized, in the two days between her death and her funeral, that I knew Ruth Bell Graham better than I knew anyone else in my life. And I have also learned more from her than anyone else.

Her often hilarious take on life was never at the expense of someone else. Her humor was self-deprecating and according to her, the material was endless. Putting the car in forward instead of reverse and careening off a cliff into a tree would be something many of us would rather not be circulated. It was a story she delighted in and she insisted we tell in several books. In fact, today if you look down the cliff in front of the Graham house, you will see a stop sign attached to a tree at the bottom of the hill.

Also Christ-like was her compassion. She would give someone the dress off her back. In fact, she did. Once an African pastor at a world evangelism conference felt he could not return home without something for his wife. Ruth, hearing the distress in his voice, found something to change into and gave him the dress she was wearing to give to his spouse.

Ruth was the most well-read person I've ever met. Her knowledge was vast-biblical knowledge, Puritan writings, current non-fiction, and some popular fiction (Jan Karon and Patricia Cornwell were great friends, but so were C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald, men she only knew from their books). Although I tried hard to keep up with her reading, I never had her unique alchemy of turning knowledge into wisdom.

No one was as loyal in friendship as Ruth Graham. If you stopped being friends with Ruth, it was something you did, not her. The nearest thing to judgment I received from her was when my hair was down to my shoulders. Instead of suggesting I get a haircut, she gave me some of her scrunchies to pull it back.

When I study the attributes and character of Jesus, it is Ruth that illustrates His love, faith, meekness, compassion, forgiveness, peace, gentleness, and goodness. One of my great regrets will be never finishing our last book, How to Marry a Preacher and Remain a Christian. The book would have been funny, compassionate, erudite, loving toward her husband, and practical in her advice to spouses of ministers and evangelists. It would have been just like the Ruth I knew and loved. I will miss her dearly.

-Stephen Griffith is a book editor who worked with Ruth Graham for more than 20 years.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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