With a deep sense of loss, the children of Ruth Johnson announce that our beloved mother died on September 11th, 2020.
Ruth was born in New Rochelle, NY, on October 9th, 1929. She was named after her vivacious mother; she loved to listen to her father, Herbert Alton, tell stories. Throughout her life Ruth remained close to her older sister Rita, and younger brother Alan, and their families.
In 1944, Ruth’s father moved the family to Toronto. There she attended North Toronto Collegiate Institute, learning to sing “God Save the King” instead of “God Bless America”. Summers she worked waiting tables at lodges in Muskoka. In 1948 she began Trinity College at the University of Toronto. She studied English literature, Religious Knowledge, and somehow survived an elective in Astronomy.
During the 1950s, Ruth worked as an insurance underwriter for Manufacturer’s Life by day and trumped opponents at bridge by night. One fateful game at the YMCA in the spring of 1958 partnered her with David Johnson, a kind and handsome young Englishman. Their wedding at Holy Trinity Church that September made them bridge partners for life.
Now as wife and mother, Ruth devoted much of next two decades to being the “entertainment committee” who moved Peter, Ed, and Jenny’s lives “from joy to joy,” and brought a sense of occasion to each day.
Once her kids were launched in school, Ruth returned to full time employment as Director of Volunteers at Toronto General Hospital. When she retired sixteen years later, she was particularly proud of having created a program in which specially trained volunteers brought coffee and comfort to anxious families in the surgical waiting room.
In addition to working full time, Ruth became a writer, an avocation she pursued until life left her hands. A few of her early short stories earned small checks. Then followed a lengthy novel set in 19th century Toronto. This effort earned her the moral victory of hand-written, apologetic rejection letters from major publishers. She would have preferred a form letter with a check.
Ruth read widely. Her eclectic taste embraced the elegies of Dickinson; the lyrics of Bob Dylan; the entirety of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past; and McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road. She regarded Winnie-the-Pooh as next to scripture. The Nobel-prize winning saga, An Independent People, inspired her solo travel in Iceland. Dog-earing everything put into her hands, Ruth was the tent pole of book clubs from Willowdale to Winnipeg.
The golden threads that ran through Ruth’s life and literature were themes of spirituality, faith, and “the Meaning of Life.” Ruth was willing to ask the deepest questions about her faith. She sought answers in the writings of Marcus Borg and Bishop Spong. It gave her great satisfaction to explore these questions with her small communities of “seekers” wherever she lived.
As the years went by, Ruth welcomed her new roles of mother-in-law, grandmother and “coach”. She created special ways to connect with each of her two daughters-in-law, son-in-law, and three grand-daughters. In their 80’s, Ruth and David moved near their Winnipeg family. Together they found many new friends, not one but two churches, and several bridge and book clubs. They treasured the opportunity to know grand-daughters Alanna and Natalie more deeply thanks to Sunday dinners at Ed and Leslie’s that served up love and laughter, good food, and, of course, wine. Ruth celebrated a surprise 85th birthday at Jen’s in Halifax, and Peter and Elizabeth were roadies for her and David’s farewell tours of England and New Rochelle.
In 2017, following David’s death, Ruth moved into Seine River’s Assisted Living community where she made more friends. Early in 2020, she completed Waiting for the Lord, her poignant coming-to-terms with childhood spent in her parents’ Catholic Apostolic faith.
As 2020 wore on, age and Covid shrank Ruth’s world but she never let go of those closest to her, no matter how far away they lived. Out of the blue she would call her kids at work, just to tell them how intensely proud she was of them and the loving families they formed of their own. For them, this long-distance dispenser of witticisms and life wisdom remained “Coach” to the end.
Looking back on a life happily lived, Ruth died peacefully at Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Center, surrounded by the loving presence – physical and virtual – of her family. Her bright flame is sorely missed by her sons Peter (Elizabeth) and Edward (Leslie); her daughter Jennifer (Peter); her grand-daughters Alanna, Natalie, and Hope; and her beloved “cling-ons” Noah and Jared; and a wide circle of friends and family in Canada, the US, and England.
All who wish to view Ruth’s memorial service are warmly invited to do so by visiting https://vimeo.com/463830770 which will be available on and after 4:00 p.m., Saturday, October 10.
Those wishing to make a charitable donation in Ruth’s memory may wish to consider the Louis Riel public library in Winnipeg, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada (Manitoba Division), the Red Cross, or Doctors without Borders.
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