Billy Graham’s sons in feud over parents’ burial site

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A family feud has broken out over where ailing evangelist Billy Graham and his equally frail wife, Ruth, will be buried.

The couple’s graves had long been expected to be at The Cove, a Bible training center near the Grahams’ mountainside home at Montreat, but now those plans are uncertain.

Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, acknowledged Wednesday that the family is now divided on the issue. He said the burial could be at The Cove or at a museum and library being built at the association’s Charlotte headquarters.

“Obviously, there has to be a decision at some point,” DeMoss said Wednesday. “Whether that would be in the coming weeks or just upon death, I don’t know.”

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Ned Graham, the couple’s younger son, opposes burial at the museum, while evangelist Franklin Graham, 54, who has taken over leadership of his father’s association, wants the graves in Charlotte.

Franklin Graham said in a statement that he considers the discussion “to be a personal one and [I] do not intend to debate it publicly.”

“I believe that the decision about where my parents will be buried should be made by them, and not by me, my siblings or any outsiders,” he said.

Billy Graham, 88, has been in frail health for years and suffers from Parkinson’s disease, among several other ailments. Ruth Graham, 86, is bedridden with degeneration of the spine.

The $25 million, 40,000-square-foot Graham museum is designed to look like a dairy barn that might have existed on the farm where Billy Graham grew up outside Charlotte. It is scheduled to open in the spring.

DeMoss said the only thing he is sure of regarding Ruth Graham’s wishes is that she wants to be buried next to her husband.

Ruth Graham has told her children that she doesn’t want to be buried in Charlotte. She has a burial spot picked out in the mountains where she raised five children, and she hopes that her husband will join her there.

Ned Graham has a notarized statement that his mother dictated, stating her wishes.

“My Final Wishes Concerning My Burial Site” says, in part: “Since it is impossible for me to be buried at my ‘first home’ in China, my next choice is the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina which I have loved and where I have lived for the past 60 years. …” A number of years ago, the document continues, she and her husband “agreed that we would be buried together near the chapel at The Cove. The Memorial Garden at Chatlos Chapel was prepared for that very purpose.”

“Bill has recently talked to me about being buried at the Billy Graham Library/Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina. However, I want to make it very clear that I am standing by our original agreement. My final wish is to be buried at the Cove. Under no circumstances am I to be buried in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

In an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Graeme Keith, a major developer in Charlotte and a association board member, said, “Ruth wants to be buried next to Billy, first and foremost.” When asked about her objections to Charlotte, he replied, “In her physical condition, she agrees with the last person who talked to her.”

Ned Graham has been working to convince his three sisters, Gigi, Bunny and Anne, that their mother’s wishes should be followed.

But Franklin Graham is trying to convince their father of the appropriateness of the Charlotte burial site, Ned and another family member say.

This report includes material from The Washington Post.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday December 14, 2006.
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