By Laura Sessions Stepp
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 14, 2007
With his wife, Ruth Bell Graham, in a coma at home in western North Carolina, the Rev. Billy Graham announced yesterday that she will be buried in the city of Charlotte and not in her beloved mountains at the site she said she favored as recently as a week and a half ago.
"After much prayer and discussion, Ruth and I made the decision to be buried beside each other at the Billy Graham Library in my home town of Charlotte, N.C.," Billy Graham is quoted as saying in a news release posted on the Web site of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The couple made this decision in early spring, the statement said, and decided to announce it "now that she is close to going to heaven."
The burial site has been a matter of contention for months, threatening to break apart the country's most famous Christian family. A Washington Post story in December revealed that son Franklin Graham, chief executive officer of the BGEA, had told potential donors that he planned to bury his parents at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
Two of the other four Graham children, Ned Graham and Anne Graham Lotz, objected, as did Ruth, who called the library, a Disney-like building in the shape of a barn, "a circus." In the presence of six witnesses, including Ned, a neuroscientist and a Graham employee, Ruth signed a notarized statement saying she wished to be buried in a memorial garden at the Cove, a mountain retreat center that she and Billy built about 20 years ago.
Originally, she and Billy wanted to be buried there, the document said, and "under no circumstances am I to be buried in Charlotte, N.C."
But in March, Ruth and Billy signed another document saying they wanted to be buried in Charlotte, according to BGEA spokesman Larry Ross. Ross said the paper was signed in the presence of an attorney and a doctor.
Ruth and Billy Graham moved to the mountain hamlet of Montreat, N.C., shortly after getting married in 1943. She raised their five children there.
In 1984, Ruth began supervising the construction of the Cove, a 1,500-acre property 18 miles from Montreat. A training/retreat center was established there, as well as a chapel and a library of books and gifts that Billy Graham had acquired over the years. Ruth and Billy picked out a family burial spot; one relative is already buried there.
After the Post story ran, Billy said he and Ruth would be buried at the Cove. In early January, David Bruce, Billy Graham's executive assistant, circulated among the family a tentative plan for Ruth's burial at the Cove. Asked two days ago whether that plan was still in place, Bruce said it was, as far as he knew.
Ned Graham said yesterday that when he visited his mother a week and a half ago, she told him she still intended to be buried at the Cove. He said he and his sister Anne first learned of the change last night.
"I know this goes against my mother's wishes," he said.
Ruth turned 87 last Sunday, according Ross, and received several visitors. But yesterday she lapsed into a coma, suffering complications from pneumonia.
According to Ross, Ruth Graham has been alternately conscious and unconscious for a while. Earlier this week, with a doctor's approval, Billy and several of the children, including Franklin, decided to withdraw the solids and liquids from her feeding tube, Ross said.
Earlier in the week, she was talking and asking for Coca-Cola, chocolate and gravy, Ned said, and staff members occasionally slipped a bit onto her tongue.