June 14, 2007 / 10:14 PM / in 12 years

Wife of evangelist Billy Graham dies

MIAMI (Reuters) - Ruth Graham, the wife of U.S. evangelist Billy Graham, died on Thursday after slipping into a coma, the popular preacher’s office said.

Graham, who was 87, died at 5:05 p.m. EDT (2105 GMT) at her home at Little Piney Cove in Montreat, North Carolina, surrounded by her husband and five children, the office said in a statement.

“Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team,” Graham said in the statement.

“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.”

U.S. President George W. Bush said he and first lady Laura Bush were deeply saddened by the death of “a remarkable woman of faith whose life was defined by her belief in a personal, loving, and gracious God.”

“As the wife of the world’s most beloved evangelist, she inspired people around the world with her humor, intelligence, elegance, and kindness,” Bush said in a statement.

Billy Graham, 88, announced on Wednesday the two had decided to be buried beside each other at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, his hometown.

The daughter of a missionary surgeon, Ruth McCue Bell spent most of the first 17 years of her life in China. She attended high school in what is now North Korea and met Billy Graham at Wheaton College in Illinois.

They were married in 1943. Their three daughters and two sons are all active in Graham’s ministry.

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