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Ruth Clarke: Lifelong Learner. Friend. Weaver. Genealogist. Born Sept. 27, 1926, in Grand Valley, Ont.; died Aug. 15, 2022, in Toronto, after a stroke; aged 95.

Ruth Clarke.Courtesy of family

At the age of 94, Ruth published a five-generation history of her family, the culmination of a lifetime’s research. She identified two family traits: “a thirst for education and knowledge” and “an interest in art, music and culture.” These two traits guided Ruth through life, combined with the Protestant work ethic nurtured by her Ontario farm upbringing.

In 1949, Ruth Hunt’s thirst for knowledge took her across the Atlantic to teach in England for a year after graduating from Victoria College at the University of Toronto. Ever eager to learn new things, Ruth spent weekends at the theatre in London, enjoyed Christmas in Paris and bicycled across Ireland.

At the end of the year, Ruth returned home to marry her university sweetheart, Ernie Clarke, who became a professor at their alma mater. For the next 46 years, Ruth and Ernie shared a life full of travel, entertaining and the arts, not to mention four children – two boys and two girls – born between 1954 and 1959.

Once the youngest child was off to school, Ruth completed a master of science and embarked on a 20-year career in medical research at the Hospital for Sick Children, proving that women could have both a career and a family when it was much less common than today.

With her first paycheque, she bought a dishwasher, a luxury in 1965. She also assigned her children each a day to do either the “deals or mishes” (setting the table or loading the dishwasher). As she worked, her children became more independent, doing laundry, cleaning and cooking, all the things “I would have done had I been home all day,” Ruth said.

One stipulation for taking the job at Sick Kids was that she have summers off to spend at the cottage on Georgian Bay. This meant her children enjoyed carefree summers growing up, as did the many grandchildren who spent time there in Grandma’s care, even after Ernie’s untimely death in 1997.

As one grandchild reminisced, you had to expect the unexpected: “A sick day at Grandma’s turned into a knitting lesson; a summer visit at the cottage into an opportunity to make jam; and an afternoon visit into a history lesson.”

Ruth gathered friends as she went through life, many coming from the diverse groups she belonged to: weaving, aqua-fit, theatre and book clubs, not to mention the travel buddies who accompanied her on adventures into her 90s. As Ruth lost friends to age, she met younger ones who could keep up with her. Anyone lucky enough to call Ruth a friend, mother, grandmother or great-grandmother knows that she always took an interest in their life and engaged in stimulating conversations.

Ruth offered her home as a base for out-of-town relatives or overseas students, and she listened attentively as a grandchild explored new ideas. She was generous with her hospitality, playing host to welcome parties for new neighbours, and with her heart accepting everyone as they were and seeing the best in them.

Ruth found her creative outlet in weaving, which combined her love of science (making dyes from plants) and mathematics (designing patterns) with her sense of style and colour. She turned many of her creations into clothes that drew compliments year after year.

These pastimes helped Ruth through the long days of the lockdowns. She read 160 books between March, 2020, and August, 2022, and wove many scarves, blankets and wall hangings, determined to use up the yarn she had accumulated over the years. Ruth emerged into the postlockdown world ready to get on with life, resuming theatre subscriptions and reconnecting with friends and family, including 11 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. She lived life to the fullest to the end, enjoying a swim in Georgian Bay three weeks before she died.

Peggy McKee and David Clarke are two of Ruth’s four children.

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