Ruth Newman

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Ruth Newman, aged about 64, with her granddaughter Megan Kenzie, circa 1981

Ruth Beatrice Newman (nee Coulter) (2 July 1917 - 20 October 2016) was an award-winning pianist, homemaker, automobile insurance underwriter, and longtime widower from Don Mills, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Early life

Ruth Beatrice Coulter was born in Calgary, Alberta, on 2 July 1917 to Reverend Joseph Coulter and Williamina Bessie Coulter. She was the fourth of seven children born to her father, a minister. Her father's job took her family on several moves during her childhood.

In 1931 she moved with her family to Manitoulin Island, Ontario, and then in 1935 to Toronto, where she would remain for most of the rest of her life.

In 1938, her parents moved to Sunderland, so she began boarding at Milverton Boulevard, in Toronto. By coincidence (or not?) "Milverton" was also the name of the village where her father was born.

Piano Career

ARCT prize ceremony, 21 October 1941

She received the Associate, Royal Conservatory Toronto (ARCT) teaching diploma in a ceremony on 21 October 1941. She received the prize for top marks that year.

She worked for several years as a piano teacher in the 1940s.

She loved to accompany a signer. In the 1940s she taught a young Lois Marshall [1] at piano, but Lois quickly decided she preferred to sing, so for a time Ruth accompanied her while she sang during their lessons together.
— Sandra Kenzie, to Michael Currie, 8 August 2019

Ruth decided not to continue to teach piano after her time doing it in the 1940s, despite her obvious skill and aptitude with it.

"It was always a puzzle to me. She was not just normal at piano, she was gifted. And she went into teaching. But she said it bothered her nerves. I think she suffered from stress and anxiety while teaching and so she stopped doing it."
— Mary Ann Currie, conversation with Michael Currie, 28 July 2019

Marriage and family

On 17 March 1942, Ruth played piano for a St. Patrick's Day Dance event in Toronto. There she met Bruce Newman. He proposed to her in June of the same year, and in October, less than seven months after they met, they were married.

Bruce and Ruth at their wedding, 10 October 1942

Ruth married Bruce on 10 October 1942. At their wedding, Joan Sage was the Maid of Honour and Rosalie Waters was a bridesmaid. Both Sage and Waters were present at her 80th birthday in 1997, nearly 55 years later.

Ruth and Bruce had three children:

Ruth named her first-born daughter's middle name after her brother Hubert Coulter who had died 7 May 1943 in WWII.

Ruth named her second-born daughter after her brother Everett Coulter who had died 20 February 1944 in WWII.

Ruth has 10 grandchildren, born to her daughters between 1977 and 1987:

As of 2018 she has 9 great-grandchildren:

Thus, all her blood descendants remain alive, and they number 3 + 10 + 9 = 22.

Counting herself, she is responsible for 23 of her father's 55 blood descendants, making her the most important of his children.

[My sister] Karen [Gray] and I both take our middle names from [Ruth Newman and Bruce Newman, respectively]. I fondly remember “Uncle Boo” giving us airplane rides in the living room of their Guelph home. I also remember the Tanvalley [Crescent] house. We got a birch tree from the back yard of Tanvalley that grew in our front yard until the ice storm of 2013 damaged it so severely, I had to take it down.
— Ruth's nephew Tim Luet, email to Michael Currie, 14 August 2019

Life as a widow

On 27 June 1968, after 25 years of marriage, Ruth was widowed when Bruce died suddenly of a heart attack at age 50. She never remarried. Ruth kept a photo of Bruce by her bedside for the rest of her life.

Following the shock of Bruce's death, Ruth "couldn't function", according to Sandra. So she checked into the psychiatric facility in Guelph for several weeks. She received several sessions of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).

Although her eldest daughter Sandra helped her initially, after those ECT sessions, she emerged a determined woman, and "took charge of her life", as Sandra put it. Ruth looked after selling her Guelph house, Ruth resolved that she didn't want to buy another house, and that knew she wanted to move back to Don Mills, and that she knew she wanted to live in an apartment. She also applied for and obtained a job (her first job since her piano teaching days 20 years earlier) all on her own.

Her daughters Sandra and Lynn stayed with their mom in the second bedroom of Ruth's new apartment (#204 Bonaview Towers) from September to Christmas 1968, to make sure their mother was okay.

She always had an inner strength that maybe wasn't visible because she appeared as such a gentle creature, especially to you since you knew her only as an old woman.
— Sandra Kenzie, to Michael Currie, private conversation, 8 August 2019
The exterior of Ruth's Bonaview Towers apartment (unit 204), where she lived from 1968 to 2010

From September 1968 to March 2010, she lived on her own in a rented second-floor apartment (unit 204) in Bonaview Towers, 18 The Donway East, in Don Mills, Ontario. Bonaview Towers was built in the 1960s, along with its twin, Lawrenview Towers. Ruth's phone number for those years was +1 416 444 6583. Having moved a dozen times in her life, perhaps she was tired of decamping on a regular basis, and so she chose to remain in place for a long time. Her commute to work from Bonaview Towers to Foresters House was just seven minutes by car south on Don Mills Road.

Late-life career

Although Bruce's death was tragic, it did reveal an aspect of Ruth that otherwise might never have been seen: the independent professional woman.

In late September or early October 1968, Ruth started work at a job at General Accident (?), an automobile insurance company. At the age of 51, she had to make ends meet, and this was her first job since her piano-playing and piano-teaching days 25 years earlier. Ruth had no work experience but she had an incredible work ethic and an aptitude for numbers. She started at the bottom, working as a "filing clerk" according to Sandra, performing secretarial tasks, earning only about $3,000 per year initially according to Mary Ann. But she worked very hard, and "enjoyed going to work immensely", according to Mary Ann. She would even take work home with her. She didn't take courses, but eventually she was promoted to be an automobile insurance underwriter. During those 13 years of work she worked out of the Foresters House in Don Mills, where General Accident had their offices. Foresters House had just been completed in 1967, the year before Ruth started work. It is just across from the Ontario Science Centre.

My mother grew up in an era when women were not expected to have careers, they were expected to stay home and raise the children. I don't think she was unhappy as a housewife but I do think she would have been happier and really enjoyed having a career when she was younger. She would have made a fantastic accountant - she had a great aptitude for numbers. The man who hired her in 1968 at General Accident was taking a risk from his perspective but it paid off since she was very hard-working.
— Mary Ann Currie, private conversation with Michael Currie, 28 July 2019

Sandra agrees that the 1970s were very happy years for Ruth, since she got to work. She retired "when computers came", according to Sandra. Computers were starting to come on the scene, and she found them baffling.

So, she retired early, at 64, in 1981, and travelled to Kelowna, British Columbia, to help raise Lynn's children. She stayed there for several weeks. She also did the same thing later in 1982 when she travelled to Thunder Bay to help raise her newborn grandson Michael Currie for several months. She was there from when Mary Ann began articling in September 1982 to June 1983 when Ron Currie got off work from Sir Winston Churchill School for the summer.

Retirement

Apartment from July 1968 to March 2010 (over 41 years): 18 The Donway East, 2nd floor.

After retirement, she continued to lead a tightly-regimented, independent life at her second-floor apartment. Her apartment frequently served as the meeting-point or stopover for her daughters and their families, and she would receive these immediate family visitors on a frequent basis.

I have many fond memories of [Ruth's apartment] #204-18 The Donway East. I used to visit her often in pre-teen/teen years. She was a very special lady.
— Ruth's nephew Tim Luet, email to Michael Currie, 14 August 2019

Often family would go to one of Grandma's favourite restaurants, such as Dianna Sweets [2] [3] [4].

Yep - Diana Sweets! With room for walker parking :) Then it closed, and Anthony’s opened. Also, we used to order Chinese food from Don Mills Gardens (also now closed).
— Megan Kenzie, private Facebook group posting, 10 August 2019 [5]

Somewhat oddly, she did not frequently visit or socialize with others beyond her daughters and grandchildren. She had several siblings within a few minutes' drive but she only infrequently saw them (perhaps once a year or less, at appointed family gatherings).

She had a close friendship with her stepfather's second wife Virginia Worstell of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They were both widowed around the same time, and in the 1970s and 1980s they took trips together by train.

She enjoyed word search puzzles, and watching the news, and daily telephone calls with her daughters. She had several books by Pierre Burton, including 1967: The Last Good Year, which might have held some special significance in her mind given that this was the last year before the death of her husband.

On 2 July 1997 she celebrated her 80th birthday at the Kenzie Speyside Estate. It was a "surprise" birthday party, attended by Ruth and about 27 others:

See video: Ruth Newman 80th Birthday [6]

On 2 July 2007 she celebrated her 90th birthday at the Kenzie Speyside Estate between 13:00 and 17:00. The invitation letter to the family, from granddaughter Megan Kenzie, read in part:

The 90th Birthday of Everyone’s Favourite Relative:

Our lady of Don Mills, The Former High Jump Champion of Manitoulin Island, Piano Player Extraordinaire, Mother of the Newman Girls, Grandma, Great-Grandma, sister, sister-in-law, aunt…

Ruth Newman !
— Megan Kenzie, July 2007
Ruth Newman, on 2 July 2007, surprised at her 90th birthday by her brother-in-law Jack Newman, who came from Hawaii, with a lei of fresh flowers.

At her 90th birthday, she got a suprise visit from her brother-in-law, Jack Newman, who travelled all the way from Hawaii for the occasion.

I brought my Dad from Hawaii for the occasion. Janet escorted him back. He said it would be his last trip off island, and it was. It was such a treat to see (to me, Aunt) Ruth and Dad was so happy. It was a wonderful day for Janet and me also. I wish we had more opportunities like this.
— Tom Newman, email to Michael Currie, 20 August 2019

The Kenzie family visited their Grandma at her apartment in Don Mills for Christmas 2007, Christmas 2008, Christmas 2009. There was a visit from Stephen Atherton to Don Mills in Summer 2008.

[Her final car] was a Chevrolet Celebrity. Her previous cars were a 1976(?) Mercury Monarch, and before that was a Mercury Moterey/Park Lane? I remember that one with [a] reverse sloping rear window that would lower so we could climb out the back window onto the trunk. (boys and their cars, eh?)
— Tim Luet, email to Michael Currie, 14 August 2019

Church

Ruth and Bruce were active in the church during their marriage. Ruth often played the piano for the church until a full-time accompaniest was hired.

The church was central to the social life for Bruce and Ruth. Bruce was on the building committee, the finance committee, etc, but although the women of the church wanted Ruth to join their various women's groups "she had no intent in doing so", according to Sandra.

She would play the piano during church services, and accompany the choir, until they hired a full-time organist.

In 1968, after Bruce died, there was no church close by her apartment in Don Mills, so she attended church only once in a while. After she was widowed, Ruth stopped going to church, perhaps because she did not want to face all those people anymore, according to her daughter Mary Ann.

Skeptic

Mom always doubted the church. She didn't really believe, but she told me she hoped to see Dad. She said the idea of an afterlife seems kind of strange, she's not sure if true.
— Sandra Kenzie, 8 August 2019

Style

Her hair turned white in the 1970s, after she turned 60. Ruth kept her hair styled in a perm, which was a popular style in her youth. [7]. She maintained this style until about 2006, when she opted for a simpler-to-maintain hairstyle of just a loose but short coiffure.

A sample of Ruth Newman's handwriting

She had a distinct and memorable handwriting style.

Personality

Ruth was an "extreme introvert", according to Sandra, but functioned normally when placed in a social situation. She simply chose not to do it herself if given the choice. She was perfectly happy on her own.

She didn't listen to music at her apartment. She would follow the news. She wasn't political, but she wanted to know what was going on.
— Sandra Kenzie, 7 August 2019

In the 1970s or 1980s, there were other women in her apartment building who invited her to tea, and she would participate in a social life with them. But Ruth would never initiate that social activity, it would simply happen if they made it happen. By the early 1990s those women had moved out so that had mostly ended.

She was confident about certain things, but not about expressing opinions. She would not have the confidence to express an opinion, such as in politics, since she would not want to risk that her listener had the opposite opinion, according to Sandra.

She disliked air travel and so took the passenger train. Michael has strong memories of meeting her at the train in Fort William back when the service was still running, in the 1980s.

Illness and death

She was healthy and lived independently until age 92, in early 2010.

A rare instance of Ruth exercising, on 2 July 1997, having received these 1 lbs hand weights from her daughter Lynn for her 80th birthday

Other than vertigo, she had no major health issues despite not doing any exercise other than walking from her apartment to the nearby Don Mills Centre mall [8] and back to get groceries every few days. She had vertigo from the late 1990s until her death. In early 2010 she had a series of strokes and her mental health was gone. However, she remained physically well, if weak, until her final days.

In March 2010, a series of strokes forced her to be moved out of her longtime residence in Don Mills. She experienced severe damage to her ability to manage her emotions, as well as to remember anyone. She retained her ability to play intellectual games like word searches, and she would complete dozens of these puzzles a week until the end of her life. She also gradually lost the ability to speak.

She initially moved to Greenview Lodge, 880 Lawrence Avenue East, just up the street from her apartment, while her daughters waited to get her into a space at Allendale, which was closer to her daughter Sandra.

The mothers have gone through everything from Grandma's apartment. Some stuff has gone with her. Special/valuable/nostalgic/useful items have been distributed between the mothers. Attached are a few photos of some of the things that are left. See following email for second set of pics. We are trying to clear most things out of the apartment this week, and the rest by mid-April. Let me know if you want anything you see here, and we will keep it.
— Email, Megan Kenzie, 21 March 2010
Ruth Newman, age 94, on 22 Oct 2011

In Fall 2010, she moved to Allendale Long Term Care Facility, in Milton Ontario. She remained there for the next six years, with frequent visits and extra care provided by her daughter Sandra, who was living and working nearby.

She died 20 October 2016, at age 99, in her 100th year.

Her long-standing expressed desire was for there to be no obituary, or funeral, or ceremony. She was a private person and so those sorts of things went against her personality. Instead she was cremated and she asked for her ashes to be placed with her husband Bruce's remains, in the University of Toronto cemetary for people who had donated their bodies to science. As of August 2019 her ashes have not been placed there yet - they remain in a jar in Sandra Kenzie's bedroom closet. Sandra's intention is to wait for an appropriate occasion and then dump the ashes as per her mother's wishes.

Legacy

She has 22 descendants, all still alive as of 2019.

Three people are named for her:

Timeline

Date Age Domicile Event
2 July 1917 0 Calgary, Alberta Born
July 1923 6 Jasper Park, Edmonton, Alberta Moves
July 1927 10 Little Current, Manitoulin Island Moves
July 1931 14 Scarborough Junction, Toronto, Ontario Moves
July 1933 16 Obtained Driver's License
21 June 1938 20 Ruth sits for the Grade 10 Royal Conservatory piano exam
July 1938 21 Milverton Boulevard, Toronto, Ontario Parents moved to Sunderland, so she began boarding at Milverton Boulevard
19 June 1941 23 Ruth sits for the Royal Conservatory ARCT piano exam
July 1941 24 Parents moved to 147 Wolverleigh Boulevard, to retire when father was 70. They inherited $7000 from the hermit (!) bachelor uncle of mother. Grandmother came to live with them.
21 October 1941 24 Royal Conservatory ARCT Convocation Ceremony; Ruth wins the top prize for the top marks.
17 March 1942 24 St Patrick's Day Dance; Ruth plays piano for the event; this was the day she met her future husband Bruce Newman
June 1942 24 Engaged to be married to Bruce
10 October 1942 25 Marries Bruce Newman
October 1942 25 2042 Gerrard Street East, Toronto Rents flat at Gerrard Street East
July 1944 27 Bungalow on Sutherland Avenue, Leaside, Don Mills Purchases a house
5 August 1944 27 Sandra Hugheen born.
4 March 1945 27 At Hart House, Ruth plays the piano at the wedding of her oldest sibling, Flight Officer Wes Coulter.
19 July 1946 29 Evelyn Elaine Louise "Lynn" born.
18 July 1948 31 Mother died of complications during gall bladder surgery. Grandmother died soon after, "of a broken heart."
July 1949 32 Appleby Road in Islington (later Etobicoke, now Toronto) Moves because Bruce was headhunted for a job with HEPCO (now Ontario Hydro)
30 July 1950 33 Mary Ann born
July 1954 37 9 Chelford Street, Don Mills Moves since Bruce went back to Sangamo Company
16 March 1960 43 Father dies
1963 46 University Street, Guelph Moves to Guelph for one year. Mary Ann spends her Grade 9 year at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) [9].
1964 46 Tanvalley Court, Toronto Moves back to Toronto for three years, to a "beautiful house!" - Ruth. Mary Ann attends Don Mills Collegiate Institute [10] for grades 10 to 12.
Summer 1967 50 College Street, Guelph; this home was owned. Moves back to Guelph. Mary Ann returns to GCVI to do her Grade 13 year, which she does not complete; instead she begins university early at the University of Guelph, moves into residence in April 1968.
27 June 1968 50 Bruce dies.
September 1968 51 Apartment 204, Bonaview Towers, 18 The Donway East, Don Mills, Ontario [11] Moves into a rented second-floor apartment, where she will live for over 41 years.
September 1968 to 1981 51 - 64 Works at General Accident.
1977 - 1987 60 - 70 Her ten grandchildren are born.
July 1982 65 Visits Thunder Bay for a few weeks/months to help her daughter Mary Ann raise her son, infant Michael Currie
Circa 2002 85 Stops driving her white Chevrolet Celebrity from about 1988
2003 January to April, September to December 86 Ruth lets her grandson Michael Currie live with her in the second bedroom.
March 2010 92 Greenview Lodge, 880 Lawrence Avenue East, Toronto, Ontario A series of strokes forced her to be moved out of her longtime residence in Don Mills. She initially moved to Greenview Lodge, 880 Lawrence Avenue East, just up the street from her apartment.
Later in 2010 93 Allendale Long Term Care, 185 Ontario Street South, Milton, Ontario Moved to long-term care facility, with frequent visits and extra care provided by her daughter Sandra, who was living and working nearby.
20 October 2016 99 Dies.

Photographs

2 January 2007 Ruth Newman 90th Birthday at Kenzie Speyside Estate.

Sources

Self

Timeline was described to her grandson Michael Currie personally in 2003.