The Commons

Andiamo and Au Revoir

Friends gather to say farewell to a woman who wanted to live — and die — on her own terms

Reporter Thelma O’Brien is among the pool members who said goodbye to Ruthie Clark.

Originally published in The Commons issue #180 (Wednesday, November 28, 2012).

GUILFORD—Recently, an informal memorial took place at the Colonial Motel in Brattleboro.

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, about 75 friends and relatives gathered to honor the memory of Ruth Clark of Guilford, who had died Nov. 1 — two months short of her 90th birthday — at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.

They gathered at the invitation of motel owner Betty Tyler, also the owner of the Colonial Pool and Spa. Most of the guests were from among the approximately 275 pool members, and Ruthie — who had been one as well for more than 20 years — had an apparent connection to most of them.

At the morning gathering, several guests highlighted her kindness, her warmth, her humor, her cooking, her house, her reliable presence in a certain chair at the spa — all qualities that might accrue to many people.

But Ruthie was different.

How could you tell?

When you read her farewell letter to her friends at the spa — written, say family members, less than two hours before she died — perhaps you’ll see what so many people found arresting about Ruthie.

She had written letters to her three grandchildren and other family members the night before.

She knew what was going to happen to her and she decided to supervise the proceedings, which included reminding her sister to empty out the freezer back at her farmhouse in Guilford, and to be sure to take the zucchini bread.

“I did empty the refrigerator, but I left the zucchini bread,” thinking of others who might be using the house, her sister said.

* * *

Her sister, Greta Shores, who lives in Bernardston, Mass., and her son, David Clark, who lives in West Brattleboro, supplied Ruthie Clark’s biographical details, as well as the medical timelines.

Born in Indiana, Ruthie grew up in Summit, N.J., a descendent of Swedish immigrant grandparents. Her father was a salesman. She graduated from Summit High School and experimented briefly with nurses training, but decided against continuing.

Friends of her parents, the Fords in Summit, had a summer home in Guilford on Lee Road, and soon Ruthie was spending summers in Vermont with them and helping out with the running of what was known as Maple Knoll.

Before long she met John Clark, her future husband. He lived in Guilford and farmed the fields around Lee Road, as well as the land around his family’s farmhouse, some distance away.

Eventually John Clark inherited his family’s farm, and when they married, Ruthie and John lived there.

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