Today the North Carolina House of Representatives unanimously passed House Joint Resolution 190 honoring the memory of Ruth Bell Graham (who died in 2007) and naming her surviving husband, the Reverend Billy Graham, North Carolina’s Favorite Son. The resolution cites the couple’s long history in North Carolina as well as their legacy of philanthropy and leadership affecting millions of people world-wide.
Prior to receiving North Carolina’s highest distinction, the Reverend Graham had been named one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” for the fifty-sixth time since 1948 by the Gallup Poll, more than any other individual in the world. This honor places him at the head of the overall list of those most admired by Americans for the past five decades. By his side, Mrs. Graham played a huge role in her husband’s success, as stated in the Resolution, through “…her partnership with her husband in marriage and ministry.” Together they worked to help millions of people. Here is a part of their remarkable story.
The memory of Ruth Bell Graham must include the significant role she played in many peoples’ lives, both at home in Western North Carolina and throughout our country. Mrs. Graham was born in 1920, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Nelson Bell, in Qingjiang, Kiangsu, China where her parents were serving as medical missionaries at the Presbyterian Hospital. Four decades later, in 1966, Mrs. Graham championed the cause of children in western North Carolina by co-founding the Ruth and Billy Graham Children’s Health Center in Asheville, North Carolina, with which she was actively involved until her death.
Moreover, Ruth was a gifted evangelist in her own right, but her ministry was far more private, counseling individually at Crusades, writing many books and co-authoring, with her husband, many more. Also, she was a philanthropist and a poet and shared the gospel with her widening circle of friends including Lady Bird Johnson, the Nixons, and the Bush family. She was a regular contributor to magazines and newspaper columns. Additionally, she was an artist, and often single-handedly raised her five children while her husband was away on extended international crusades. To guard her children from the life of fame, she created a safe and private home on 200 acres in Montreat in North Carolina’s mountains.
Born on November 7, 1918 in Charlotte, William F. Graham is of Scottish descent, the son of William Franklin and Morrow Coffey Graham. The Grahams were dairy farmers, and young Billy was reared on their farm approximately four miles from the current location of the Graham Library. The Grahams attended the local Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
In 1933 when Prohibition ended, Graham’s father forced him and his sister Katherine to drink beer until they became sick! Both avoided alcohol and drugs for the rest of their lives, according to his autobiography. Because he was “too worldly,” Graham was declined membership in a local youth group and was persuaded to visit Mordecai Ham, an evangelist. During Ham’s revival meetings in Charlotte, Graham was converted in 1934 at age 16.
Graduating from Sharon High School in 1936, Graham then attended Bob Jones College, located then in Cleveland, Tennessee, but he found it too legalistic in both coursework and rules. So he transferred to the Florida Bible Institute (now Trinity College) where he graduated in 1940. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois in 1943, the same year he married the former Ruth McCue Bell.
Born from Presbyterian parents, Ruth’s missionary childhood in China ended when she went with her parents on furlough to Montreat, North Carolina, a quiet scenic village near Asheville. She finished high school there and then enrolled in Wheaton College where she met, “The Preacher,” a nickname given her future husband by their classmates.
Reverend Graham was ordained to the ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention in 1939, became pastor of two churches in Illinois, and then served as President of the three Northwestern Schools, also in Illinois. Now heard on more than 700 stations around the world, the weekly “Hour of Decision” radio program was launched in 1950 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when he also founded the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Through these media, nearly 215 million people around the world have heard Reverend Graham preach the message of Jesus Christ.
Often left alone with her children as her husband travelled, Ruth convinced Billy to move from Illinois to Montreat to be near her parents where Billy and Ruth raised five children: Virginia, Anne Morrow, Ruth Bell, William Franklin III, and Nelson Edman and now have 19 grandchildren and numerous great-grandchildren. Ruth was deceased in 2007.
The author of 14 books herself, Ruth helped Billy write many of his 30 books and numerous sermons for decades. A prolific speaker, broadcaster, and writer, Reverend Graham also authors a syndicated newspaper column, “My Answer,” with a combined circulation of 5,000,000 readers. His book “Peace With God” sold over 2 million copies in 38 languages, and “World Aflame” enjoyed many weeks on both The New York Times and Time magazine Best-Seller Lists. On the Publishers Weekly and the New York Times Best-Seller Lists were “Angels: God’s Secret Agents,” which won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Platinum Book and “Approaching Hoofbeats: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” which also won the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association Gold Book Award. His book “Facing Death and the Life After” was on the Christian Booksellers Association Best-Seller List for 21 weeks and his 2005 book, “Living in God’s Love: The New York Crusade” chronicles one of his best-attended crusades. Most recently he authored “Nearing Home” and, in 2012, “The Heaven Answer Book.”
From an unusually wide variety of organizations including those representing the military, children, race relations, international peace, science, and communications, a complete list of his accolades are too many to list.
For his work on behalf of children, he was presented the Horatio Alger Award from The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, an organization dedicated to dispel the mounting belief among the nation’s youth that the American Dream is no longer attainable. Also for his contribution to the welfare of children, he was named Big Brother of the Year.
From the White House Billy Graham was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. In 1996 Mrs. Graham’s significant role in Billy Graham’s ministry was recognized when they were jointly awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor Congress can bestow on a private citizen, in a special ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Reverend Graham was also awarded the Presidential Foundation Freedom Award for monumental and lasting contributions to the cause of freedom by President Ronald Reagan.
Many have recognized his unique and prolific contributions to peace, including the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge, who bestowed upon him both The Torch of Liberty Plaque and the George Washington Honor Medal. The George Washington Carver Memorial Institute awarded him their Gold Award for his contributions to race relations.
Interestingly, many awards have been bestowed by non-Christian organizations: the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the National Conference of Christians and Jews; he was awarded the First National Interreligious Award from the American Jewish Committee.
Successfully influencing the scientific world, Dr. Graham won the Gold Medal Award from the National Institute of Social Science in New York and the Templeton Foundation Prize for Progress in Religion from Sir John Templeton.
For five consecutive years Reverend Graham was number one in Good Housekeeping’s Most Admired Men Poll, and was in their top ten for 16 years. He has been listed in Who’s Who in America annually since 1954.
A partial list of numerous awards bestowed upon him also includes the Wisdom Award of Honor, the Freedoms Foundation Distinguished Persons Award (numerous years), the Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement, Clergyman of the Year from the National Pilgrim Society, and the Distinguished Service Medal of the Salvation Army.
Military institutions recognize Reverend Graham’s contributions to American’s men and women and their families serving their country. The United States Military Academy Association of Graduates at West Point awarded him the Sylvanus Thayer Award, which is the most prestigious award the United States Military Academy gives to a U.S. citizen. He also won the National Citizenship Award by the Military Chaplains Association of the U.S.A.
Recognizing his expertise as a prolific and effective communicator, Reverend Graham has received numerous accolades from the media including Morality in Media, the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of Broadcasters, the Annual Gutenberg Award of the Chicago Bible Society, the Distinguished Communications Medal by the Southern Baptist Radio, and Salesman of the Decade award from the Direct Selling Association, the National Religious Broadcasters Award of Merit.
He is a member of the Religious Broadcasting Hall of Fame and of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, the first non-musician to be inducted. Additionally, he has many honorary degrees from universities.
A legend across the globe, Dr. Graham’s international awards are also too numerous to list completely. For his international contribution to civic and religious life for over 60 years, he is a member of the Honorary Knight Commander of the order of the British Empire (KBE) and was bestowed an award by the Franciscans International, part of the United Nations. He was presented the Jabotinsky Centennial Medal by The Jabotinsky Foundation in Israel.
Indeed, Billy Graham’s impact on his home state of North Carolina, our nation, and across the globe is monumental. “My Hope” with Billy Graham, is a large-scale evangelistic outreach for America that unites the importance of a personal relationship with the power of modern media. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team is a nationwide network of hundreds of chaplains who are uniquely prepared and trained to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of victims of natural and man-made disasters. Since 2002, the Rapid Response Team has deployed to more than 140 natural and man-made disaster sites.
The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte opened in June 2007 and chronicles the life of Dr. Billy Graham. More than 550,000 people from all over the world have visited the Library as well as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association headquarters, also in Charlotte.
Billy and Ruth Graham had a dream of providing a place where people could leave the demands of daily life, come to study God’s Word, and be trained to reach out to those lost. That dream resulted in the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, near Asheville, where programs are offered year-round and feature leading Bible teachers from around the world.
Continuing his emphasis on youth, Dr. Graham will broadcast the message of hope in Christ across the country through various media broadcasts in November 2013 through his “My Hope” program. Launched in 2002 with the goal of reaching every country in the world, “My Hope” has been implemented in 57 countries to date, reaching more than 10 million people. His son, Franklin, and grandson, Will, continue that legacy by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with hundreds of thousands every year.