Edith Gwendolyn “Gwen” Graham was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend. She went home to be with the Lord on Sunday, September 19, 2021, at age 76, in her home with her husband of 57 years and her family at her side.
Gwen was born to the late Dessy and Edith (Triplett) Smith on July 5, 1945 in Marietta, GA, the daughter of a World War II Army Air Corpsman (which became the US Air Force two years later). She was their only daughter and had an older brother, Ben and a younger brother, Carl. After graduating early from the Lawrence D. Bell high school in Hurst, TX, she began attending the Bible Missionary Institute in Rock Island, IL in the winter of 1963 where, on her first day on campus, wearing a blue floral dress, she caught the eye of a dashing young theology student, her future husband, Ralph. Their first date was in September, they were engaged within six months, and four months later – on July 31, 1964, they were married by Rev. E. Lorena Maynard.
Upon Ralph’s graduation the following Spring, and the arrival of their first child that Summer, Ralph and Gwen moved to Texas to assume the pastorate of a small church in San Antonio. Three more children, and a new pastoral assignment in Fort Worth, would soon follow. After eight years in Texas, the young family of six moved to a country home in Springfield, AR, where they spent another eight years. It was there they welcomed their last two children, and the Graham family was complete: Sherwood, Sherilyn, Geoffrey, Tabitha, Felicity (now Felix), and Gillian.
Although naturally shy and reserved, Gwen was an intelligent and informed woman with a warm personality and broad range of interests. Unquenchably curious, she was a polymath. She knew something about everything. She would color her conversations with eclectic tidbits of information one was convinced were constructs of her imagination – until the encyclopedia invariably proved her correct. She never lost at Scrabble, even when she played against herself.
She was also imaginatively inventive, traits that grew from the soil of a broadly-informed mind and expressed themselves in every facet of her life – her music, her crafts, her speech. Even her whimsical culinary creations featured the often-obscure vegetables she grew in her garden and were one-of-a-kind. She was barefoot as often as possible; she loved to feel the earth beneath her feet and the soil between her fingers. Though her voice was seldom heard, her sly smile and twinkling eyes were often seen as she found the humor in everything, especially the incongruous and offbeat. Those whom she loved were the recipients of her infamous, bone-crushing hugs, the ultimate sign of her affection.
Gwen was a skilled pianist who, from six piano lessons, independently developed her artistry to the point of mastery. Shunning the spotlight of a soloist, she performed as an in-demand vocal and instrumental accompanist for over 50 years. She was Ralph’s accompanist every time he sang a solo or led the congregation in singing at church. She passed her great love of classical music and hymnody to her children. As her family grew, the sounds of music could be heard not only filling the Graham household but the surrounding woods as well, as all her children learned to play musical instruments, usually quite loudly. Several of her children, and even grandchildren, pursued professional careers in music education and performance. Others continue to express themselves musically for the amusement and entertainment of themselves and their friends, and the chagrin of their neighbors. And spouses, and children, and pets.
Gwen’s creativity also expressed itself in the crafts of crochet, knitting, embroidery, tatting, and sewing, many times working to a pattern that existed only in her mind. For decades she insisted on making almost all of her and her daughters’ clothing. Her prolific output ensured every close friend and family member was the beneficiary of one or more of her sweaters, hats, scarves, baby beanies, blankets, booties, and assorted other craft creations. She especially enjoyed showering her offerings on those who had newborns or young children. To the end of her life, Gwen was rarely seen in public or private without a needle (or hook) and yarn (or thread) in her hands.
Gwen famously had a voracious appetite for reading. Even at a young age her library of books was voluminous and rivaled that of a small-town library. The weekly trips to town with her family always included two stops: the grocery store and the county library. If forced to choose between the two, the grocery store was optional. Stacks of books were checked out weekly. Every evening, after the instruments were practiced and the ever-present chores completed (at least for the moment), the family would gather together for the highlight of each day: she would have one of her children read a passage from the Bible and say a prayer, then she would read aloud from a book, usually a literary classic, which transported the entire family on an adventure to another place and another time.
Gwen was a devout and faithful Christian who served the Lord, her community, and the local church in various ministries throughout her entire life, most recently at the Madison, TN Bible Missionary Church. The first book she read every morning was her Bible. The faith and the values she taught her children were grounded in “the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Like the virtuous woman venerated by the wise man, “her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, he praiseth her” (Proverbs 31:28).
Visitation for Gwen will be held at Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens in Nashville, TN on Thursday, September 23, 2021 from 5 to 8 PM. A memorial service will be held at 12 noon on Friday, September 24 with visitation prior at 11 AM at Harpeth Hills. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to a Christian Missions organization of your choice, or one of the following:
BMC Foreign Missions, 744 Port Arthur Drive N, Madison, TN 37115
Beulah Mountain Christian Academy, 2995 Beulah Heights Rd, Whitley City, KY 42