A biographer and friend of Ruth and Billy Graham said the couple formed a perfect partnership and that their love remained strong even into old age.
"She was his life partner in everything, an integral part of his ministry," Hanspeter Nuesch, 30-year director of Campus Crusade for Christ in Switzerland, told The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday. Nuesch's new book, Ruth and Bill Graham: The Legacy of a Couple, was released last month.
Nuesch told CP that he wrote his book because he saw several hundred books on the life and ministry of Billy Graham, 95, but none covering the story of the couple. "Ruth has played such an important role in this ministry. We have to write a book on the couple," the author explained.
As he researched the wife, who died in 2007, of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, Nuesch "realized she was a really exceptional person – as exceptional as Billy." The story of the couple's romance plays a central role in his book.
A Long, Persisting Romance
"In your thinking, we have grown apart due to the wide separation of our various interests, but I feel closer to you than ever," Ruth wrote her husband while he was on a long evangelistic crusade in England, Nuesch quoted. "Wherever you are, I go with you in mind and heart, praying for you continually." Despite their long separation – two months – Ruth wrote, "Your problems, real heartaches, and glorious victories are much more my very own."
Nuesch explained that the romance lasted through the Grahams' entire marriage, even growing stronger in old age. "If you speak with Billy about Ruth his eyes always light up and he speaks so highly of her," the biographer explained.
The couple "felt that within God's guidelines sexuality was a gift of God, given for the marriage partners' enjoyment and not only for procreation," Nuesch wrote. Graham publicly disagreed with the pope on this matter, arguing that "young people are getting the wrong idea about sex – within marriage it's the most wonderful of relationships." The Grahams would often kiss in public.
Nuesch told a story that revealed the Grahams' attitude toward divorce. When Ruth was asked on camera if she ever thought about divorce, she responded with a joking glimmer in her eye. "Divorcing never, but killing several times." This was her feisty personality, "a very normal person, very authentic, full of fun," the biographer explained.
The biographer argued that the defining characteristic of the Grahams' marriage was its partnership. "They saw their ministry as a teamwork," Nuesch said. "God has called Ruth, just as clearly as He has called Billy. He called her as clearly to evangelism, but she expressed this call by staying at home, taking care of the family and freeing Billy up to be the evangelist."
Ruth would often joke that "God has delivered me, He has liberated me for staying at home and praying, not having to run after Billy all the day." She sacrificed her lifelong dream of preaching the Gospel in Tibet in order to raise a family and strengthen her husband's ministry. Nuesch explained that their separate roles helped them to run the family well while Billy spread the Gospel across the world.
Ruth was not just an evangelist by backing up Billy, however. The daughter of former President Richard Nixon, "Julie Nixon Eisenhower, said she was led to the Lord through Ruth Graham," Nuesch recalled. "If Billy has been given the gift of evangelism, Ruth has been given the gift of faith," Eisenhower said.
Nuesch even described Ruth as the person of faith in the Graham household. "In sermons, Billy led, but at home, she was supporting him, encouraging him. She embodied faith much more than Billy," the biographer explained. "Billy often said my world mission would have been impossible without her encouragement and support."
A Common Mission
The Grahams pursued a closer relationship with God together, as a family. "They both saw that it was their common mission to help share the Gospel to the world, to make Jesus known," Nuesch explained. When Billy Graham went away on evangelistic crusades, he would call Ruth at 5 o'clock in the afternoon, and they would pray together.
Both Ruth and Billy looked beyond worldly fame and never boasted of meeting important people, instead focusing on serving the Lord in their interactions with others, Nuesch said. He recalled an instance where the president was calling, and Billy Graham "would say 'I don't have time – I just have to talk to our housemaid at the moment. I'll call you back.'"
Ruth never put her husband on a pedestal.
"People who knew them best said they are even better at home than they are on the podium, and that is a very strong testimony for a person," Nuesch recounted. He counted authenticity and integrity among the Grahams' key traits.
The biographer argued that the strongest part of the Grahams' marriage was their prayer life. "There is no better recipe for a good marriage than to pray together frequently, because in this way you sense your spouse's heart," he explained. Both Ruth and Billy prayed and read Scripture constantly, very often with each other.