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Ruth Hill Stanley

Matriarch. Volunteer. Cultural advocate. Philanthropist. Born June 28, 1922, in Saint-Lambert, Que.; died Feb. 15, 2017, in Sackville, N.B., of natural causes; aged 94.

Ruth Hill was raised in a loving family with two older doting brothers and spent carefree summers in Prince Edward Island. At McGill University, she studied sociology, excelled as a student debater and was a gold medalist at McGill law school. Ruth was the only woman in her law class and graduated in 1945, a year after women were admitted to the Quebec Bar. When she was a teenager, activist priest Jimmy Tompkins commented, "God help the men when you are unleashed on the world."

Although she won a graduate scholarship to study at the University of Chicago, her plans changed when she met George Stanley, a dashing Rhodes Scholar, war veteran and history professor. Theirs was a remarkable life partnership. She spent the rest of her life in British Columbia, Ontario and New Brunswick, and immersed herself in supporting her husband's academic career and raising three daughters (all became professors). She also worked diligently to promote good causes, including ambulance service, Elizabeth Fry, Girl Guides, historical organizations and women's issues.

Ruth's was a life of firsts. As a student, she was instrumental in organizing contralto Portia White's first performance at McGill in the early 1940s. Ruth curated the first formal exhibition of Maud Lewis's work at Mount Allison University in 1974, at a time when academics were dismissive of her folk art (Ruth was given only six hours of gallery time for the exhibit).

Ruth was the first female chair of a hospital board in New Brunswick. Using her exceptional diplomatic skills, she worked tirelessly for three years to obtain a modern hospital for Sackville. She often joked that politicians and bureaucrats in Fredericton let the hospital proceed only to get rid of her.

She had a passionate interest in Canadiana and was a strong supporter of the arts community. She donated her fine collection of Canadian art books to the University of Calgary, and particularly enjoyed her role as the first honorary president of the New Brunswick Museum Board.

George's term as Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick coincided with the province's lively bicentennial celebrations. When George and Ruth walked into a room, everyone took notice. As one journalist noted, they brought "a new level of decorum" to the viceregal role. The ultimate compliment came from the Countess Mountbatten, Ruth was quoted as saying in a local newspaper: "I'd like you to remember this party," Mountbatten told her son. "This is the way things used to be done in the United Kingdom when things were done right."

For her decades of public contributions, Ruth was awarded the Order of New Brunswick, honorary degrees from Mount Allison University and St. Thomas University, and the Canadian Centennial Medal. In retirement, she travelled to Asia, South America, Antarctica, Europe and the Middle East.

Sometimes, there is a wonderful symmetry to life. Ruth died on Flag Day, 52 years after the Maple Leaf, designed by her husband, was first raised on Parliament Hill. Her fondest memory of that historic day was looking out from the Peace Tower and seeing snowy Ottawa awash in red and white flags.

When Ruth passed, tributes flooded in from friends and admirers across Canada. The word that featured uniformly in these messages was "graciousness." Ruth was raised to value refinement and compassion. She epitomized these classic virtues, and we miss her presence in our lives.

Laurie Stanley-Blackwell is Ruth's daughter, John Blackwell is her son-in-law.

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