Don't be fooled into thinking Ruth Bell Graham, the admired wife of evangelist Billy Graham, played second string to her iconic husband. This strong, independent, gracious woman lived a life in her own right.
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Her intellect, her spirituality and her compassion made an immeasurable contribution to her husband's ministry. Those who knew her were enriched, and even those who watched her from a distance could not help but note the example of love and faith she set - an example that stands in stark contrast to the emotional hubris so common these days.
She died Thursday at age 87 after years of declining health. What made her life remarkable had little to do with whom she married. It had everything to do with character, intellect and grace.
Why was she so special?
She spoke her mind. Mrs. Graham acted as an independent-minded adviser and sounding board for her husband, telling him when she thought he was wrong or was about to make a mistake.
She did not care much for material wealth. She preferred the simplicity of her log home in the North Carolina mountains to anywhere else and spent her last days there.
She put her family first. Mrs. Graham raised five children largely by herself while her husband traveled the globe for his ministry. That could not have been easy.
She was faithful. As an accomplished poet, she wrote of her Christian conviction that a just and loving God would want his followers to help others, sinners and believers alike.
She was private. As the wife of the world's most respected evangelist, Mrs. Graham was a public figure. But she sought a balanced life, not fame.
She was witty. "I don't think the country's ready for a divorced president," she said when someone suggested her husband should run.
Ruth Graham chose a life with traditional trappings. But she was not necessarily a traditional woman. Her life offers a lesson as rock-solid as her faith: She was respected because of what she was, not who she was.