Women behind the men deserve some glory, too

Flowers lay near a memorial for Ruth Graham at the entrance to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte on Friday. Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died Thursday at home in Montreat, N.C. She was 87.
Flowers lay near a memorial for Ruth Graham at the entrance to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte on Friday. Ruth Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died Thursday at home in Montreat, N.C. She was 87.

The husband was just another Rock Hill lawyer in 1964 and then all of a sudden he's elected to Congress and he's a big shot in America.

He smokes his three-for-a-nickel cigars with the men who make history, decides the course of the Vietnam War and civil rights, helps create Medicaid.

The wife is a mother with two daughters and the laundry piling up before the 1964 election.

The same day in Washington, D.C. that U.S. Rep. Tom Gettys met with President Lyndon Johnson, Mary Phillips Gettys herded two teenage girls in the car and drove around neighbor- hoods to find a decent place for the family to live.

Then she scrubbed the bathtub. Then she ironed the clothes and cooked the dinner and mopped the floor and fell into bed dog-tired. That's what the wives of famous men did.

"I considered it a privilege to be a wife and mother," Mary Phillips Gettys told me Friday. She is 87 year old, the same age Ruth Graham was when she died Thursday.

Ruth Graham, wife of the most famous traveling preacher on Earth, the Rev. Billy Graham. A man who spent much of his life somewhere else on crusades -- for crying out loud the guy visited 180 countries, he had to be gone a lot -- while Ruth Graham raised the five kids and hung the sheets on the clothesline.

"In my day not a lot of women had careers," Mary Phillips Gettys said. "We thought to find the right husband was fabulous. I know I did, and still do. To be a good wife and mother, what's better than that?"

Famous men get plaques, wings in buildings and whole buildings. There is a Tom Gettys Center on Main Street in Rock Hill, and rightfully so.

Mary Phillips Gettys got to drive the kids to the doctor then stay up all night playing nursemaid.

The whole block of Main Street where her husband's building should perhaps be named for her.

Wives do the work while the famous husbands talk to Larry King.

A dozen years ago, the country was watching a local murder trial unfold. The prosecutor was a young guy, just over 30, from Lesslie outside of Rock Hill. His name was Tommy Pope and he had a new wife named Kim.

CNN and The New York Times and the rest of the country wanted a piece of Tommy Pope, who became famous because he was trying to get the death penalty for Susan Smith for drowning her two kids nearby in Union. The couple's first anniversary came in July and Kim Pope was home without a husband. So she cooked some stir-fry and took it to Union. She arrived around 8 at night and waited, then got to eat with her famous husband around 1 a.m.

A few years later, Pope was trying more death penalty cases and TV cameras followed him. Kim Pope had no camera on her as she drove to Wal-Mart because she needed laundry detergent. She alone stopped at the corner convenience store for milk because the husband was at the courthouse until 2 a.m. She juggled two kids in diapers. After she got them to bed, she did the dishes, then scoured the sink.

"It was my job," Kim Pope said Friday. "Your husband is in public life, serving people, you do what your job is. Ruth Graham said God put her where she was while her husband did his work. This is where God put me."

The men run around saving the world and the wives like Ruth Graham and Kim Pope and Mary Phillips Gettys hang the sheets on the line and change the diapers.

At the Billy Graham library dedication in Charlotte a couple weeks ago, Billy Graham said his lone regret for that day was that his wife he loved so much couldn't be there because she was sick.

Leave it to the pistol at age 87, Mary Phillips Gettys -- who loved her famous husband and supported him in all ways for 55 years of marriage until his death a few years ago at age 90 -- to sum up Billy and Ruth Graham better than I ever could. She knew Billy Graham, her husband did, too. And both admired him.

"Billy Graham always gave credit to his wife," Mary Phillips Gettys said. "Not all men did that back then. Some don't do it now. But they should."