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Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died Thursday at her home at Little Piney Cove in Montreat, North Carolina. She was 87.

She was born to missionary parents in Tsingkiang, China, in 1920, where she was raised in staunch Presbyterian piety, with daily doses of private and family devotions and being expected to memorize large portions of the Bible. Her high school years were spent in a boarding school in Pyongyang (now North Korea).

In 1940, at Wheaton College in Illinois, she met a classmate who invited her to a performance of Handel's Messiah. From that first date, the relationship between Ruth Bell and Billy Graham took off. Before they parted for the summer of 1941, Billy asked Ruth to marry him. She didn't say yes immediately, but within a few weeks, she wrote him to say that she believed their relationship was "of the Lord."

They graduated from Wheaton in June 1943 and were married on Friday, August 13. Returning from their honeymoon, Ruth fell sick, but instead of calling to cancel his preaching engagement in Ohio to stay by her bedside, Billy checked Ruth into a hospital and kept the speaking appointment, sending her a telegram and a box of candy.

So began her adjustment to her husband's intense calling to preach, which meant extended times of separation. Yet "I'd rather have Bill part-time," she often said, "than anybody else full-time."

Ruth was a student of the Bible. "She knows the Bible a lot better than I do," Billy was quick to admit. And she provided a measure of grit that complemented Billy's more diplomatic style.

When Billy warmly recalled his meeting with the president of Mexico—"He even embraced me"—Ruth quickly added, "Oh, Bill, don't be flattered. He did that to Castro, too."

Yet ...

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Ruth Graham Dies at 87
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