Remembering our friend Ruth Hazen, 1919-2012

(The following is a reprint of an article Allison wrote about the passing of our dear friend Ruth Hazen, and the impact she had on us and this organization.)

Ruth and Peter

About 10 years ago, an article appeared in The Gainesville Sun focusing on Steve Blay and his work with Friends Across the Ages. A few days later, a lady named Ruth Hazen called. She was a member of another Gainesville area nursing home volunteer group called the Nursing Home Volunteer Auxiliary, and she was wondering if there was some way we could combine our efforts. Friends was a rather new organization which Steve and I had started only three years before. The NHVA, on the other hand, was well established, having been founded through the Gainesville Woman’s club in 1983. Ruth felt that joining the fresh energy of Friends with the experience of the NHVA would be a perfect combination. A couple of months later, Ruth’s idea was realized: in May of 2002, the two groups merged together under the name Friends Across the Ages. A new board of directors was formed, and the first board meeting took place at Ruth’s home. That was the beginning of Steve’s and my friendship with her.

I can still remember how gracious she was at that first board meeting. I was a little nervous about what she would think of us. Here was this elegant lady in her early 80’s, a beautiful woman in every sense of the word, with silver hair, pink cheeks, and kind brown eyes—and the most generous spirit imaginable. She had been retired for a long time, and had spent the past 20 years or so doing manicures each week at one of the local nursing homes, because, as she put it, “everyone deserves to feel pretty.” She made everyone present feel very welcome in her home, and what could have been a rather awkward gathering instead felt energizing and hopeful. She never seemed to have any trouble with the fact that Steve and I were in such a different places in life than she or that our backgrounds differed from hers. She treated everyone she met with the same respectful, gentle, sweet manner.

Over the years I have said many times that “I want to be like Ruth when I grow up”—and in this I was not alone. Ruth was admired by almost all of her acquaintances, and rightfully so. She lived her life with such energy and vitality. She went to the gym nearly every day to keep her body in shape because she did not wish to become a burden to others. She drove herself for visits to her mountain cabin in North Carolina through dirt roads right up until a few years before she died. She continued her volunteer work at the nursing home for as long as she could, only stopping a couple of years ago when pain in her leg made it difficult to carry on. She served on the board of Friends until 2006, at which time she retired from the board but was designated an “honorary lifetime board member” because of the inspiration and vision she had given us all.

Ruth adored babies, and was delighted when our son Peter was born in late 2005. I can still remember how Ruth’s eyes lit up when she first saw him, and her arms went out, immediately wanting to hold the baby. The picture above is Ruth with Peter, just before her 86th birthday and his 1st birthday. Peter—and later his sister Annie—called her “Grandma Ruth” and it just seemed to fit. We would stop by and visit her every so often and she would offer the kids sweets and show them the birds and flowers in her backyard. She would pick up whoever was the baby at the time and say “I’m going to get your sugar” and kiss them just under the ear while they giggled and screamed with delight. We will always remember and treasure those times.

How blessed we were that Ruth came into our lives all those years ago. How lucky we were to know someone of such integrity, vision, and grace. How sad we were to lose her this February. We will miss her so much. But we will try to learn from her example and to live as she lived, with vitality, generosity, faith, and love. She has left an incredible legacy and we will do our best to honor it.

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