Ruth Graham, Billy Graham’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Getty Billy Graham and his wife Ruth pose aboard the liner "United States" in February 1954.

Billy Graham, the beloved evangelist who brought the message of Jesus Christ to people across the world, has passed away at the age of 99. He had Parkinson’s Disease since 1992. He leaves behind five children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. His wife and soulmate, Ruth Bell Graham, passed away before her husband in 2007. They were married for 64 years, and Billy Graham often said his ministry would have been impossible without his wife. They were called as a team. Here’s everything you need to know about Billy Graham’s beloved wife and soulmate, Ruth.

1. Ruth Graham Was Born in China to Medical Missionaries

GettyAmerican evangelist Billy Graham with his wife Ruth at a London railway station, circa 1954.

Ruth Graham was never a stranger to the life of evangelism. She was born in Qingjiang, Jiangsu, China in 1920. She was the second of five children. Her parents, Dr. L. Nelson Bell and Virginia McCue Bell, were medical missionaries with the Presbyterian Hospital. When she was 13, Ruth enrolled in high school in Pyongyang, Korea and studied there for three years. While her parents were on furlough, she completed her high school studies in North Carolina.

Interestingly, Ruth originally never intended to marry. She knew how hard missionary life was, and saw her parents lose colleagues to political violence. Ruth’s own little brother had died of dysentery. She admired missionaries, but did not feel that she could do it herself. But when she met Billy, that all changed.

2. Ruth and Billy Graham Met in College and Considered Each Other Soulmates

GettyBilly Graham (R) and his wife Ruth smile in 1988 as they meet Chinese inhabitants of Ruth’s birthplace.

Ruth and Billy Graham met when Ruth was only 17, in 1937. They were both studying at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois. Ruth said that when she was a sophomore, she heard Billy pray and thought, “There is a man who knows to Whom he is speaking.” She said she loved the earnestness of how he preached, and his gentle spirit and sincerity.

They were married several years later on August 13, 1943, right after they graduated. Billy Graham once said that he was so excited when Ruth accepted his proposal that he preached a sermon and didn’t remember a word that he said. Ruth made her own wedding dress and stood on the back seat of her father’s car while driving to Gaither Chapel in order to avoid wrinkling it. Fifty years later, when they celebrated their 50th anniversary, Ruth tried on her dress and found that it fit!

Two years after they were married, Billy Graham became an evangelist with Youth for Christ. They moved to Montreat, near her parents, and continued to live there the rest of Ruth’s life.

The day before Ruth died, Billy Graham released the following statement: “Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side. I am more and more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College.” 

3. Billy Graham Once Said His Ministry Would Be Impossible Without Ruth

GettyUS Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich presents Evangelist Billy Graham and Ruth Graham with a Congressional Gold Medal during a ceremony on Capitol Hill 02 May 1996.

One thing many people don’t know is that although her husband was one of the most famous Baptists in the world, Ruth remained a Presbyterian. She fully supported her husband’s ministry and was his greatest confidant and supporter. He often turned to her for advice about his ministry. “When it comes to spiritual things, my wife has had the greatest influence on my ministry,” he once said.

He also said, “Without Ruth’s partnership and encouragement over the years, my own work would have been impossible. We were called by God as a team.” But leaving Ruth for evangelistic trips wasn’t always easy. Graham said: “Many a time, I’ve driven down that driveway with tears coming down my cheeks, not wanting to leave.”

At one time in 1964, rumors circulated that Billy Graham might run for President. But Ruth would have none of that. “If you run, I don’t think the country will elect a divorced president,” she said. Billy Graham had vowed to never be alone in a room or car with a woman other than Ruth, and he even had members of his team enter his hotel room before he did, to make sure a fan or someone else hadn’t sneaked inside.

Ruth published her first book, a children’s book, in 1959 and then wrote or co-wrote 13 more, including works of poetry. She found that poetry was a wonderful way to release her emotions while her husband was gone and she missed him terribly. Her writing was a big part of her ministry. She and her husband were jointly rewarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1996.

4. She and Billy Graham Had Five Children, And She Often Raised Them Alone While He Traveled

GettyAmerican evangelist Billy Graham embraces his family upon his return from his ‘Crusade for Christ’ tour, New York, New York, mid 1950s.

Ruth was a strong wife and mother, ready to handle any emergency on her own if she had to. Billy Graham often traveled extensively for his international and national crusades. This meant that Ruth was at home sometimes raising their children on her own. They had five children: three daughters and two sons. All five of their children are in ministry. Virginia Leftwich Graham was born in 1945 and is an inspirational speaker and author. Anne Graham Lotz was born in 1948 and runs AnGeL ministries. Ruth Graham was born in 1950 and is the founder and president of Ruth Graham & Friends. Franklin Graham was born in 1952 and is the president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and the president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse. Nelson Edman Graham was born in 1958 and is a pastor at East Gates Ministries International.

Ruth never took her children for granted. She once said: “You have your children for a few short years. Train them before the time is gone.” She also had some helpful advice about raising a family. “Your attitude to God, your husband and your family must create an atmosphere of love, appreciation and encouragement which every family needs.”

Ruth had 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. One of the Graham’s more well-known grandchildren is Basyle “Boz” Tchividjian, a former child abuse prosecutor and Liberty University professor who is now the executive director of Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. This nonprofit is dedicated to preventing abuse in Christian organizations.

5. Ruth Passed Away from Pneumonia Complications in 2007

GettyEvangelist Dr. Billy Graham kisses his wife Ruth in 2001.

Ruth had been in frail health since 1995 when she had spinal meningitis. Degenerative osteoarthritis in her back and neck from a fall in 1974 had left her with constant back pain that the meningitis made worse. Ruth passed away in 2007 from complications from pneumonia, after being bedridden. Her family had to make the heartbreaking decision to honor her request to be removed from life support. She died just four days after she turned 87.

Their daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, once said about her parents: “They set the tone for our lives by the way they lived theirs. Their depending on God was obvious—Mother’s light would be on late at night and early in the morning as she studied her Bible and prayed. And Daddy, even though the world acclaimed him as a great man and so many sought him for advice, would still get on his knees and humbly ask the Lord for His guidance. Through all of this, we learned that seeking God was not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.”