Learning Strength, Grit, Resiliency and Wisdom From Someone Who Has Done It Before

Rest in Peace, Ruthmary McColl Pope

  • Published on January 4, 2019

Todd Finch—Guest Blog Writer

Vital Connect Regional Sales Director (Southeast)

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Rest in Peace, RuthMary McColl Pope. September 15, 1921-January 1, 2019.

Obituary for RuthMary McColl Pope

I am sad to announce the passing of my grandmother, RuthMary McColl Pope. She was 97. 97! I don't have a Facebook account or any other social media, but I feel LinkedIn is probably the most appropriate place for me to share my thoughts on her life and how profoundly she impacted me and taught me so much. 

Roo-Roo. As the eldest of 11 grandchildren, that's the name I bestowed upon her as a toddler because I couldn't say RuthMary. It stuck so well that everyone in the family and even those close in the community adopted it. My grandfather and her husband, Dr. Robert Pope, became Doc-Doc. He was the first pediatrician in the small eastern NC town of Wilson and they were married 58 years before his passing in 2006. Their marriage was a love story built upon genuine love for each other, true companionship, and many sacrifices (mostly by Roo-Roo as the wife of a pediatrician who made house calls his entire 50 year career and never made it through a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without being called in to help a sick child and worried mother). She understood his calling, and gave him a supportive and understanding space in which he could thrive in his career. But we all saw her sacrifices.

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These are the words that come to mind when I think about Roo-Roo. Gratitude. Kindness. Grit. Generous. Witty. Frugal. Health. Learned. Hydrangeas. Little Yellow Beach Cottage (LYBC). 

Gratitude. Roo-Roo awoke each and every day so thankful for what she called her wonderful blessings in life. Her large family, her many friends at church and the many volunteer organizations she led. That lightness and genuine spirit was contagious and rubbed off on us all. As the oldest grandchild and with her only living 45 minutes away, I was fortunate to spend much of my youth with her and I remember even as a child just how grateful she seemed to be for everything. Our comparing minds and ego are constantly trying to rob us of our innate gratitude. I would do well to stop and think of her when my comparing mind rears its ugly head. 

Kindness. Its so simple, isn't it? Just be kind. Don't be an ass. We come up with a myriad of excuses as to why we lost our cool in the moment. Yelled at our kids. Were insanely impatient because our Starbucks order wasn't ready in the mobile line precisely as we walked in. But Roo-Roo was genuinely kind to everyone. Everyone. She treated everyone equally. Like many in the south she had help with the house, and she treated them as beloved members of her family and taught me at an early age that one's title or job meant nothing. We can choose to be kind. 

Grit. As a hiring manager, I always gravitate to those who have persevered through adversity, be it personal or professional, and emerged with profound learnings in tow. Roo-Roo made it through the Depression. She would have been 12 in 1933. She lost her mother at a young age and an older brother as well. Rural, eastern NC at that time was a difficult place for a young girl and she assumed the role of head of house and the farm. That experience cultivated grit and a work ethic that I noticed even as a young boy. She just never. Stopped. Doing. Even at 97, beset with Alzheimer's, she was constantly trying to move from one place to another in the house and she didn't give up until the very end, which gratefully ended in peace. 

Generous. Roo-Roo and Doc-Doc raised 4 children on a pediatrician's salary between 1950 and 2000. I remember as a child seeing her at the credenza in the study writing checks. The Salvation Army. First Presbyterian Church. American Cancer Society. Giving a little extra cash to the milkman (yes, milk was delivered fresh in the 80's and even 90's in Wilson, NC). She always told me that they were fortunate to have what we did, and there were always people who could use some additional help and it was our duty to help them when we could. So we do. But we could do more. And we will. 

Witty. Man, was my Roo-Roo funny. She had a comedian's timing and acerbic wit. Maybe it was growing up with older brothers, or her time in the Red Cross in a Memphis hospital during WWII, but Roo-Roo developed a sharp wit that later became known as "Roo-Roo-isms." Zingers that left your sides hurting. Never mean-spirited or hurtful, more observational and matter of fact. As I got older, she'd sometimes share a ribald joke, totally not PC, and I thought she was the coolest grandma on the planet. She gave me my love for late night comedy, and when I would stay with her as a boy, we would stay up and watch Johnny Carson and then David Letterman together, long after Doc-Doc had passed out exhausted from a 16 hour day at the hospital. 

Frugal. Roo-Roo and Doc-Doc were well off, but they never acted like it. Oldsmobiles. Buicks. Leftovers. More leftovers. Reusing aluminum foil. Toilet paper rationing. As a 7 year old, I distinctly remember getting lectured on how much TP was appropriate to use. That stuck with me. Our family chalked it up to growing up descending from the West Scottish Highlands, as frugal a people as there are. My wife makes fun of me when I haggle about the price of everything. I derive such satisfaction from "is that the best you can do, or do you have any more room on the price?" As a result, we both drive Hondas. I love leftovers. And yes, I will wash out a perfectly good Zip-Loc bag as long as it didn't contain meat or fish and reuse it again. Thanks Roo-Roo. 

Health. Roo-Roo weighed the same at 90 as she did on her wedding day. She ate like a bird I used to think. She always ate small portions, snacked on healthy fruits and vegetables, loved a nibble of dark chocolate. And she was active. Gardening. She mowed the lawn. Cleaned the gutters. It was only 5 years ago that a neighbor visited the house and found Roo-Roo on the roof, cleaning the gutters, in 90+ degree NC humidity. At 92. When asked why, she said "they're not gonna clean themselves" and "why would I pay someone to do a job I can do myself." So there. 

Learned. I got my love of reading from Roo-Roo. She always had several books on her nightstand and the quiet moments she had when she wasn't tending to the house or yard she spent with books. No TV blaring. She particularly loved Southern literature and introduced me to Eudora Welty, Clyde Edgerton, Pat Conroy, William Faulkner, Alice Walker, and others. She encouraged intellectual curiosity. She encouraged an alternative point of view. She was interested and involved in politics and issues affecting her community. She was extremely proud of me when I got involved in student government at Appalachian State University, eventually running for VP of the Student Body. She'd write me letters in college and tell me of the books she was reading, mention she was proud of me majoring in English and History. Letter-writing is a lost art in today's digital world. She was instrumental in me learning how to write a proper thank-you letter, a skill I cherish and use frequently to this day. I loved seeing the mentions of George HW Bush and his prodigious letter writing after his passing. Roo-Roo would have admired that about him. 

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Hydrangeas. Roo-Roo grew and cultivated the most beautiful hydrangeas all throughout her yard. She frequently had them scattered throughout the house in clear glass vases. The deep blue hues always gave me comfort and are a calming presence whenever I see them. We visited Cape Cod this summer where they just spill out of everyone's yards, bursting with color. I thought of her often that week, as we had just visited her a month prior, knowing it would likely be the last time we would be with her. She had moments of lucidity and clarity; less than more. My son played his ukulele and sang for her. I kissed her cheek and pressed my cheek against hers. She had the most beautiful and soft, baby-like skin. I cried as we pulled out of the driveway. 

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Finally, the Little Yellow Beach Cottage (LYBC). When I die, I want some of my ashes to be scattered in the dunes in front of our LYBC. So many of my childhood memories are from the LYBC in Atlantic Beach, NC. Roo-Roo and Doc-Doc provided a lifetime of memories to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren by being fortunate enough and generous enough to share this place with us. Back in the 60's, they saw an ad in the paper for a decommissioned army barracks that was being sold from Fort Bragg, NC for $500. At that time, they couldn't afford to buy it, so they went in with another family, split the cost, =got a loan from BB&T, and shipped the duplex on a flatbed to the vacant lot. Since Doc-Doc was well-known in the community as the pediatrician, the bank allowed them to make payments whenever they could. So Roo-Roo would walk in a few dollars each month until it was paid off several years later. Quite a different time. But this is our family's Shangri La. Surf fishing. Boogey boarding. Shrimp functions. Starting and finishing a book on an all-day hammock binge. And a noontime rocking chair BLT with a Miller High Life with my Roo-Roo. Great times. 

You will be missed Roo-Roo, but the effect you had on others in your life was profound. May I be so lucky to positively impact 10% of those you did. Gratitude. Kindness. Grit. Generous. Witty. Frugal. Health. Learned. Hydrangeas. Little Yellow Beach Cottage. (LYBC). 

God Bless. 

Todd