Ruth Graham had been bedridden for months with degenerative osteoarthritis of the back and neck – the result of a serious fall from a tree in 1974 while she was fixing a swing for grandchildren – and underwent treatment for pneumonia two weeks ago. At her request, and in consultation with her family, she had stopped receiving nutrients through a feeding tube for the last few days, Ross said. A public memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the Montreat Conference Center. A private interment service will be held the next day in Charlotte. As Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth Graham could have laid claim to being the first lady of evangelical Protestantism, but neither exploited that unique status nor lusted for the limelight. Behind the scenes, however, she was considered her husband’s closest adviser during his spectacular global career – one rivaled only by her father, L. Nelson Bell, until his death in 1973. “She would help my father prepare his messages, listening with an attentive ear, and if she saw something that wasn’t right or heard something that she felt wasn’t as strong as it could be, she was a voice to strengthen this or eliminate that,” said her son, Franklin, who is now the head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. MONTREAT, N.C. – Ruth Graham, who surrendered dreams of missionary work in Tibet to marry a suitor who became the world’s most renowned evangelist, died Thursday. She was 87. She died at 5:05 p.m. at her home at Little Piney Cove, surrounded by her husband and all five of their children, Billy Graham said in a written statement released by his spokesman Larry Ross. “Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team,” Billy Graham wrote. “No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support. “I am so grateful to the Lord that he gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we’ve had in the mountains together. We’ve rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven.” “Every person needs that kind of input in their life, and she was that to my father.” Bell, a missionary doctor, headed the Presbyterian hospital in Qingjiang, China, that had been founded by the father of author Pearl Buck. Ruth grew up there and spent three high school years in what is now North Korea. “What she witnessed in her family home, she practiced for herself: dependence on God in every circumstance, love for his word, concern for others above self and an indomitable spirit displayed with a smile,” said the Grahams’ youngest daughter, also named Ruth. Billy Graham was a spiritual adviser to presidents for decades, and through him his wife, despite her reluctance to be a public personality herself, met many of the powerful and famous. In a joint written statement, President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush called her a “remarkable woman of faith” who “inspired people around the world with her humor, intelligence, elegance, and kindness.” She met Billy Graham at Wheaton College in Illinois. “If I had not been smitten with love at first sight of Ruth Bell, I would certainly have been the exception. Many of the men at Wheaton thought she was stunning,” he wrote in 1997. He coaxed her away from a foreign-missions calling and into marriage after both graduated in 1943. In 1945, he began his roving ministry for the Youth for Christ organization.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!