I first met Ruth Davis in 1996 - retired in Fort Myers, Florida, with a long, interesting and distinguished life already stretching back some 80 years behind her at that time. I got to know her better - but not as well as I would have liked - over the following years as I courted and then married her daughter Lisa. Ruth passed away last week at the age of 94, and I'm going to break my usual guideline of "not talking family" here, in her honour.
Ruth and her husband - Lisa's dad Gerald, who passed on before I ever met Lisa, were a US army family, and Lisa tells of childhood memories of the Middle East, Germany and Italy, with her and her older sister and brothers as part of the family who traveled on location. And she tells of other involvements she heard a little about where the family couldn't go ... but rather they stayed and lived in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. And when he retired, they continued to live in Carlisle as a good eduction base for Lisa, before retiring to Florida and living down there - Lisa also moving south after college and living half an hour or so from them for many years. It takes a remarkable lady to support her husband, rising to roles such as camp commander at Camp King, and bring up four very bright children as well as she clearly did - and it takes a dedication to settle down upon retirement based largely on the upbringing of the youngest of the those children.
As I said, I first met Ruth in Fort Myers when I was courting Lisa. She was still driving, living quietly in an immaculate single storey home in the city, although her sight was just starting to blur a little. We went round to visit, we ate Thanksgiving Dinner and - as I later learned - she said and did some things a little our of the ordinary to see how I would react - whether she considered me a suitable suitor.
The following Christmas, we drove with Ruth from Florida up to visit the rest of her "children" in Manasas, Washington and Lynchburg, and our own combine families - my parents and children - were on the trip or part of it too. I've fond memories of that Christmas. Of lifting our feet off the floor every time we crossed a stateline in the car. Of Ruth insisting that my parents tried boiled peanuts which are the Florida equivalent of marmite - incomprehensible to outsiders. Of meeting Pat, Phil and their families, and how they all welcomed not only me, but also my family.
Ruth found the drive rather exhausting, and indeed she was getting on and decided to move into some more sheltered accommodation a few years later. Her extraordinary background was such that she was eligible for a facility "par excellence" in Virginia, and for the last 10 years or so we have visited her there from time to time. It's not everyone's cup of tea to go visiting such places (it's not usually mine), but I was honoured to go to another continent to visit - and Ruth always made it an experience to enjoy too. Sadly, the last time we visited, she had had to move out of her apartment for a while and into the hospital wing after a fall, but even that was "classy" and you felt that the patients were customers and real people and not just "yet another old person". And Ruth was certainly not just another old person.
There's so much I don't know about my mother in law - and much of what I do know was come through Lisa's loving words. I'm not sure that I understand Kilburn, Illinois connection. I certainly don't know what it's like to walk up the street in a land where your country is not welcomed by the locals. And I don't know the Ruth as she was in earlier life. I suspect that if I look at her daughters Pat and Lisa, I'll have a pretty good idea. (Pat - if you're reading this - please close your eyes for a sentence). Pat's been a rock - a true support - for her mother for the past few years. I know the family has said "thank you", and I do too. Nothing is too much trouble for Pat - utterly selfless, but as the same time looking out for family, and not suffering sillies. I know that Pat was concerned for a younger sibling moving halfway across the world - and rightly so - and she rightly asked some rather deep questions of me. But this is not about Pat - it's the reflection of her mother in her.
I'm writing of someone I knew not-all-that-well ... and I hope to learn more of her in coming weeks and months. Lisa and I will be visiting the US in due course for a graveside service, and the family will be getting together. It will also give us a chance to say an additional "Thank you" to Pat, and to brother Brian. He and his wife Jean (especially), have been dedicated to ensuring that Ruth got the best of medical care and attention in the last weeks.
I hope to come back and fill in some stories - and add some new ones - on our return. And our getting together will be a celebration of the life of Ruth Davis, all that she was and did, and how she continues on in those who follow her.
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