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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  1. Jeffrey says:

    Bev,thank you so much for blessing the multitudes with your awesom heavenly voice and sharing God 's word thru your song . Rest in the arms of Our Father !

  2. randy says:

    The best. Billy Graham. Cliff barrows George Beverly Shea. Just as I am. Jesus is calling !!!!!

  3. Donna says:

    While I have never believed in the message about which he sang so beautifully, GBS is indeed an example of someone who has lived a totally “Godly” life and I admire him tremendously.

  4. ddoris says:

    Thank god for her and his wonderful voice. May you rest in peace with our heavenly father.

  5. Stewart says:

    If I was not myself (but by God's grace I am who I am!) I would have loved to be George Beverly Shea.

  6. EDWARD says:

    U have and always will be my model. your music shall live. heaven is happy to recieve you.

  7. Catherine says:

    George Beverly Shea and Billy Graham will forever epitomize the preaching of the gospel and soul winning for me. I am sure Mr. Shea heard the sweetest words mortal ears will ever hear: Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant”. Rest in Peace, Mr. Shea

  8. Alister says:

    A young lad from New Zealand first heard the beautiful God given voice of Mr Shea I gave my heart to Jesus.Sleep well Mr Shea in the arms of your Saviour.

  9. Barbara says:

    Our loss is heaven's gain.I have many of Bev's CD's and if ever I felt low his singing would always lift my spirit. Thank You Bev Shea. You were the best

  10. Dave says:

    George was brought into our home via his great gospel records from the 1950's on. Our farm family never had much extra money but somehow my dear mother saved enough to join the Word Music Club so we were very blessed by numerous gospel singers. PTL