Ruth Graham Funeral Held In N.C.

Billy Graham, left, speaks during a memorial service for his wife, Ruth Graham, in Montreat, N.C., Saturday, June 16, 2007. Ruth Graham died Thursday at age 87, following a lengthy illness that left her bedridden for months. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Reflecting her simple tastes, a casket built of plywood carried Ruth Bell Graham through the streets of her mountainside home in the Blue Ridge range on Saturday as mourners gathered to remember the wife of evangelist Billy Graham.

"My grandparents thought the world of them," said Emily Clark, 25, of nearby Weaverville. "We seem to take them for granted, so it's important to come out here to honor her."

Ruth Graham died Thursday at age 87, following a lengthy illness that left her bedridden for months. She fell into a coma on Wednesday following a recent bout with pneumonia, and a spokesman said she died peacefully with her husband and all five of her children at her bedside.

All of her children planned to speak at an afternoon memorial service. Scheduled to attend were Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C.; Lynda Johnson Robb, daughter of the late President Lyndon Johnson; Steve Case, co-founder of AOL; and Debbie Smith, wife of Christian music artist Michael W. Smith.

Billy Graham, who preached to more than 210 million people around the world during a six-decade career, did not plan to speak Saturday. He has several ailments, including prostate cancer and Parkinson's disease, and is largely confined to the couple's home in Montreat.

"In her last days, she talked repeatedly of heaven, and although I will miss her more than I can possibly say, I rejoice that some day soon we will be reunited in the presence of the Lord she loved and served so faithfully," Graham said Friday.

As a handful of mourners watched the procession before Saturday's memorial, Ruth Gleeson, 56, praised Ruth Graham as a "partner rather than a shadow of Billy Graham."

"There is so much scandal in religion — particularly in the evangelical realm," said Gleeson, of nearby Black Mountain. "For her, it was never about the ego. It was always about God. That's really a rarity, and we have to honor that."

Born in 1920 to medical missionaries in China, and after spending some of her high school years in what is now North Korea, Ruth Graham vowed to never marry and dreamed of working as a missionary in Tibet.

That changed after she met Billy Graham at Wheaton College in Illinois. They were married in 1943 at Montreat Presbyterian Church, the same church she attended for the rest of her life.

Graham's simple coffin, adorned with flowers, was chosen after son Franklin, who now heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, noticed inmates at the Louisiana State Penitentiary building the caskets for themselves and others who could not afford to purchase regular coffins.