Joan Winmill Brown was an up-and-coming stage actress in London when the Harringay Arena hosted a Billy Graham crusade in 1954. Brown went to the arena with a friend, saying, "It would be a lark to see what this American has come to tell the British about religion." In spite of her skepticism, she walked down the aisle during the altar call. Ruth Bell Graham was the counselor who met her there and led her to Christ. "There was quite a bit of choreography going on," said Brown. "And I thank the Lord for that."
The event began a friendship that lasted 53 years and changed the course of Joan Winmill Brown's career. She came to America, married Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) executive and World Wide Pictures president William Brown, and became deeply involved with the BGEA and the Grahams. Joan Winmill Brown has written 18 books, including the autobiographical No Longer Alone, in which she describes her relationship with Ruth Graham.
The first time you met Ruth Graham was at the London revival. Did your impression of her change as you got to know her better?
I was more and more deeply impressed. Here was a woman who had tremendous responsibility with all the children and Billy away so much.
I made a movie for the Billy Graham [Evangelistic] Association, and they asked me to come over to the mainland and visit all the different cities it was being premiered in. I got so tired. Ruth said, "Come and stay with me for a month at Montreat." And that was the most wonderful month of my life. To see her, how she coped with everything. Her secret was, of course, God's Word. She had an open Bible in practically every room. And she'd say, "I can't have time alone first thing in the morning because the children all need help. But as long as I have a Bible open, I can read a few verses."
The last time I saw her was at the Pasadena crusade. She was in a wheelchair. She was so thin and in such great pain. But she just clutched my hand, and we looked into one another's eyes. Those eyes were just as beautiful as the first time I ever saw them. They just radiated the Lord.
When you first met, what did she say to you?
She said "Don't forget, Joan, you don't walk out of here alone. Christ goes with you. You will never be alone again." She was practical, really, in her statements. She was never holier-than-thou at all.
Ruth's lifestyle changed quite a bit over the years. How did that affect her?
More and more she couldn't go with Billy, she used to say, "I'd rather see a little of Billy than a lot of somebody else." I'm sure there were times of great loneliness. But I don't think she would ever say that to anybody.
We used to love to sit by the fire, and she would talk to me about her childhood in China. We received a letter one day and she opened it, and I saw that she suddenly looked sad. I said, "I hope it's not bad news." She said, "No, but it's from a friend of mine who's a missionary with her husband. She [wrote] 'it must be very glamorous to be the wife of a well-known evangelist. I'm just stuck here with my husband.'" For the first time I'd ever seen, [Ruth] had a tear in her eye, and she said, "At least she's with her husband." She just put the letter away and got up and went on with her chores that she had to do. But that was the only time that I really saw her like that.
Luckily, she had her wonderful parents who lived next door in Montreat. Such loving people, Dr. and Mrs. Bell. It was wonderful to go and sit there with her and listen to them talking. What impressed me so muchthere was never any sort of preaching or anything into those conversation would come quotes from the Bible, and it would just sound so natural. It was so lovingly done. Her sisters and her brother were like that, too.
Ruth Graham became quite influential. Was that something that gave her a lot of pleasure?
I'm sure it was a great joy to be able to be a great influence for the Lord, but I've never seen her treat [celebrities] any differently than an old lady who was ill. She had that same radiance and love for everybody.
There was a girl. She was a drug addict in London. Ruth called me one day and said, "Would you go and meet this Wendy in the park? She's on drugs, and I think you could help her." We followed up on her. Ruth would talk to [Wendy] when she could. She was always doing that to me, she was always saying, so-and-so needs some helpcan you go and talk to her?
What will people who never got to know Ruth remember her for?
She was the epitome of what a Christian woman should be: her dedication to her husband and her children, and realizing that it wasn't demeaning at all to be a mother. She loved her children so much.
She loved being a wife. To see [Billy and Ruth Graham] togetherthey just adored one another. Without [Billy Graham's] faith and his assurance that he'll see her again, I know it would be impossible for him. I know that they were really brought together by the Lord.
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