In a recent column, I mentioned that among the highest points of a recent trip to Carolina, was a visit (two visits, actually) my wife and I made to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.
As I said in that column, I don’t usually toss around the word “inspirational,” but the Billy Graham Library deserves that adjective. Designed to reflect his upbringing on a dairy farm in North Carolina, the library, grounds and all, wonderfully honors Billy Graham by honoring most of all the Lord he has served so long and well.
I was particularly surprised to find that among the most thought-provoking sights at the library were on its verdant grounds. And they were graves.
One is the grave of that “sweet singer of Israel,” George Beverly Shea, who has often been called “America’s beloved Gospel singer.” A Grammy Award-winner and ten-time nominee, Shea was inducted in 1978 into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. For most of his long life, he was an integral part of Billy Graham’s team and the featured singer at Graham’s crusades. Graham said, “I’ve been listing to Bev Shea sing for over 50 years, and I still would rather hear him sing than anyone I know.”
George Beverly Shea lived to be an amazing 104 years old, and he had passed away on April 16, 2013, just a few weeks before my wife and I visited the Billy Graham Library. We’d heard that his body had been buried on the grounds of the library. On the afternoon we first visited, we were running out of time, but we hurried out and followed the path down and around, and came to one grave (that of Wilma “Billie” Barrows, wife of longtime music director Cliff Barrows), and, nearby, a small pile of fronds and flowers, and I told Juana, “I’ll bet that’s George Beverly Shea’s grave.”
Three days later, we had a little time to come back and finish our tour. And, sometime during that interval, the headstone had been set: “George Beverly Shea: America’s Beloved Gospel Singer.” And he was. On this past Sunday, back home, I played during worship a recording of him singing the song for which he wrote the music, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”
Back up the path on the library grounds is another peaceful plot with spaces for two graves. And one is being used. It’s the grave of Ruth Bell Graham, Billy’s wife, and an amazing person in her own rite.
Ruth was born in China to missionary parents, and at the top of her North Carolina fieldstone marker is the Chinese character for “righteousness” (which is also, I’m told, on her father’s headstone). She passed aw
ay just a few days after the library was opened in 2007.
Below her name and the dates, “June 10, 1920 – June 14, 2007” are words that Ruth had seen as she was riding down a highway. She thought these would make a fine epitaph, and she was right: “End of Construction: Thank You for Your Patience.”
Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.