As another pivotal election has just occurred, we’re reminiscing about the friendships Ruth Graham had with U.S. Presidents and their wives over the years. Billy Graham met with 12 sitting presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Ruth often cautioned Billy to keep the talk to religion and not to politics and was a spirited part of dinner conversations.
The Graham family became particularly close with the George H.W. Bush family, sometimes vacationing with them in Kennebunkport. Of Ruth, Barbara Bush wrote, “I think of Ruth Graham as almost the perfect woman. Perfect because she’s got a sense of humor and such family loyalty. And I love her because she says what she thinks. I’ve enjoyed our friendship. I’ve teased her a little bit because I think she has the world’s hardest-to-read handwriting. That’s her only fault. I love her support of Billy (I guess maybe that’s a generational thing.) But to me it is so important to support your husband, your children, and your friends. And Ruth has been very supportive to us.”
Barbara Bush gave Ruth this replica of the Vice President’s house, filled with potpourri, for Christmas in 1981. On the card she enclosed, Mrs. Bush wrote, “Merry Christmas and Dearest love to Ruth Graham — I hope this will tempt you to come see us.”
Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson were also particular friends with the Graham family. Lyndon Johnson often invited the Grahams to his ranch in Texas and would drive them around the property at break-neck speeds. Billy recounts one of those times in his autobiography Just As I Am: “Ruth and I climbed into the vehicle, and he took off at full throttle. We sped along the riverbank. Without warning, he swerved right into the Pedernales. For a second, I believed he was suicidal. But the engine kept going, and so did we. The car turned out to be an amphibious vehicle that carried us along on the current like a boat. ‘Most people jump out when we hit the water,’ Johnson complained, as Ruth remembered it. ‘You’re the President,’ she said to him. ‘I figured you knew what you were doing!’”
The Billy Graham Library features an entire gallery, “Footprints of a Pilgrim,” dedicated to Ruth Graham. Her handmade wedding gown is featured, along with memorabilia from her childhood in China and her personal scrapbooks.