George Beverly Shea Laid to Rest in Angola Casket

By   •   April 26, 2013

Burl Cain is not used to crying.

But as the Prison Warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary (aka Angola), Cain took in the funeral of George Beverly Shea, who rested in the casket his inmates had made, and he could not stop the tears from flowing.

“I thought it was the most incredible funeral,” Cain said. “It was just a great celebration of someone’s life.”

It was a surreal week for Cain, who had the opportunity to visit Mr. Shea just two days before his passing — exactly a week before he sat in the gorgeous Anderson Auditorium pew, the stone floor beneath his feet.

They spent two hours together — Cain, Bev Shea and his wife Karlene — mostly laughing, telling stories, and of course, drinking coffee, one of Mr. Shea’s passions.

None of them knowing it would be their last visit.

“We had a great conversation,” said Cain, one of the Mr. Shea’s last visitors. “We ate some cookies and just had a good ol’ time.”

At one point, Cain told Mr. Shea, “I don’t think I’ve met anyone 104 years old.”

Bev Shea’s quickly responded: “Well, I haven’t met anyone 104 either.”

He thought for a second and delivered the next line with perfect timing.

“I haven’t met anyone 103.”

Cain left blessed, not knowing Mr. Shea would soon pass away.

“He was brilliant,” Cain said. “He was so witty and had such a great sense of humor. You would have thought he was 20.”

Mr. Shea was buried April 22 at the Billy Graham Library in the Angola casket, just like the one Ruth Bell Graham was buried in back in 2007.

Franklin Graham, who had visited Angola, La., during one of his Festival outreaches, had noticed the high-quality caskets the prisoners had made and asked if they would consider making some for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

“We have a coffin shop in the penitentiary,” said Cain, who added the shop idea began after one of the inmate’s cardboard coffins fell apart during a ceremony. “This is a life-sentence prison. Life means life. But when you die, you’ve served the sentence, so why shouldn’t you have a good casket?”

Cain said six inmates worked on the caskets built for the BGEA, and Angola donated the labor costs. The caskets are made from plywood with a cross on top. 

“(The Grahams) have a heart for prison ministry and prisoners,” Cain said. “Some of the poorest people made the coffin, but (Franklin Graham) honored them by letting them build the coffins. We were very honored to do it.”

So honored that Cain made the trip to Mr. Shea’s funeral in Montreat, N.C., to pay tribute to the man who was the soloist for the Billy Graham Crusades for six decades.

“I came to the funeral because we really have a special place in our heart for Bev Shea, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Franklin,” Cain said.

One of Cain’s favorite memories was the time when a 100-year-old Shea came to the Louisiana State Penitentiary to sing to the Angola inmates.

“He sang some of his favorite songs for about 45 minutes,” Cain said. “It was standing room only.”

Mr. Shea came to Angola to deliver in person his newest Rodgers organ — one Franklin Graham had gifted to him for his 100th birthday — to the Angola prison. It was given to Mr. Shea with the understanding that after he passed, the organ would be gifted to Angola.

Mr. Shea was quoted in 2009 not wanting to wait until his death to give Angola the organ, as he would be robbed the joy of giving it away: “Every night, on my pillow, I would think about it.”

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63 Comments

  1. Debra Fox says:

    My Mother and I just bought Mr. Shea’s cd and just love it, we didn’t know he had died and are happy for his homegoing in peace.

  2. Dave Dicker says:

    Mr. Shea was the “real deal”; we earth folks were blessed to have him for 104 years!

  3. Sophonia Stevens says:

    Beautiful man of God. What a blessing he was to so many poeople, ol and young!

  4. nancy padalecki says:

    Very touching worthy ministery

  5. Carl Newton says:

    Bev, gave sermons in song as effective as any preacher.

    Carl Newton

    1. Carl Newton says:

      Great

  6. jerry davenport says:

    My prayers are for Mr. Graham and his family!

  7. sharon says:

    A Godly man who blessed almost as many people in song as his friend billy did with the gospel ! Thank u lord for this blessing!

  8. Sally says:

    I went to a concert in SF at the Civic Auditorium around 1950. It was packed. He was sponsored by the Armor Glass company and everyone attending got a box of glasses. I still remember his signature song was Singing I go along life’s road praising the Lord, For Jesus has lifted my soul. I look forward to singing with him in heaven!!!!!!

  9. Terry says:

    What a voice he had rich bartone ring through when he sang; what a life he had bring people to know god our savior with his music. I did not know he was that age in mind sprite and body you can think and live what age you want to be so long for now.

  10. Orsie says:

    I loved him and his dedication to the Lord. He was always present with a beautiful voice to sing God's praises.