The Archive Collection

Ruth Bell Graham’s Adventures in Driving

August 8, 2023

This month the Billy Graham Archive and Research Center has shared images of Billy and Ruth Graham’s North Carolina driver’s licenses that are in the archive collection in honor of National Traffic Awareness Month in August. And while that may not seem to have a lot to do with the Billy Graham Library, it is known that Billy Graham once served on the National Safety Council and even shared a “safe driving” message in a NSC Public Service Announcement.

While Rev. Graham was taking the business of driving safety seriously, Mrs. Graham had other ideas. Read a few anecdotes about Ruth’s driving below.

Billy Graham’s 1993 North Carolina Driver’s License
Ruth Bell Graham’s 1992 North Carolina Driver’s License

End of Construction

Billy Graham shared this story of Ruth in his book Nearing Home:

Long before she became bedridden, she was driving along a highway through a construction site. Carefully following the detours and mile-by-mile cautionary signs, she came to the last one that said, “End of Construction. Thank you for your patience.” She arrived home, chuckling and telling the family about the posting. “When I die,” she said, “I want that engraved on my stone.” She was lighthearted, but serious about her request. She even wrote it out so that we wouldn’t forget. While we found the humor enlightening, we appreciated the truth she conveyed through those few words. Every human being is under construction from conception to death. Each life is made up of mistakes and learning, waiting and growing, practicing patience and being persistent. At the end of construction – death – we have completed the process.

Motorcycle Mama

Ruth Graham was always known to be fearless. In A Time for Remembering: The Story of Ruth Bell Graham, biographer Patricia Cornwell tells the story of Ruth taking up some of her son’s hobbies when her daughters had grown and left home—among them were an interest in automobiles and riding motorcycles. Here’s another (cautionary) tale of Ruth’s driving:

In the early seventies, Franklin acquired his first motorcycle. It was plenty loud and he enjoyed waking up the college students on early weekend mornings by roaring beneath the dormitory windows until showers of soda pop bottles sent him on his way. It was easy to figure where Franklin got his temerity: from his mother, who was fast becoming the resident Motorcycle Mama. Three times she swung into the black leather seat, determined to master the sport: The first try she zoomed along Old U.S. 70 in Black Mountain, knowing how to do just about everything except stop. She plunged over a steep embankment, to the alarm of the burly, tattooed driver of the Mack truck behind her. The man stopped, peered down at her from the road, more than a little surprised to discover that this trim woman dressed in black and riding a Harley-Davidson wasn’t exactly a teenager.

“Lady,” he asked, “can I help you?”

“Thank you,” Ruth replied. “If you could just get it on the pave­ment headed in the other direction, I’ve a friend at the end of the road who’ll help me stop.”

The second try landed her in a lake. The third try she accelerated instead of braking and burst through the split-rail fence, severing a vein in her leg.

A photo of Ruth riding on a motorcycle that she gave to Billy (shared by Franklin Graham)

In a Hurry

Ruth wasn’t exactly a benign influence in an automobile either. Just as the coolies had scattered when Dr. Bell roared into sight in his Austin Healey, so the Montreaters hugged the edge of the mountain roads for fear of meeting Ruth head-on around a curve. New drivers were warned to “watch out for Mrs. Graham.”

While her husband served on the National Safety Council, preaching on film, “Drive unto others as you would have them drive unto you,” his wife was behind the wheel practicing situational ethics. When in a hurry she would careen around the narrow, winding roads or roar along a highway. “Father, I’m sorry,” she would pray while breaking the speed limit, “but You understand.” Perhaps He did understand, for in all her years of driving she was cited only twice for speeding. The first time, the patrolman, realizing who she was, urged her to pay her ticket when the station opened early the next morning “so no one will see you.”

The second citation came after Ruth had driven fifty miles from Montreat to Waynesville to visit friends. At three o’clock that after­noon Billy telephoned her and said he was with a German businessman and wondered if she could serve them tea at four.

“Sure, honey,” she said cheerfully.

She sped along Old U.S. 70, the red needle wagging at eighty, when suddenly the ominous blue light flashed in her rearview mirror. “Could you please hurry with that?” she asked the patrolman as he filled out her ticket. “And when you finish, please don’t follow me, because I’m going to have to do it again.”

She was home in time to greet her guest.

Learn more about Ruth Bell Graham and her role and impact on her family and the ministry of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association at the Billy Graham Library. Plan your visit today.

What Do You Think?