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Celebrating a century with Ruth Hart
May 10, 2019

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LAKE PLACID - One hundred years ago, the Allied powers were still drafting the Treaty of Versailles at the Paris Peace Conference to officially end World War I, American and Canadian soldiers were still coming home from fighting in France, and actors such as Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin and Harry Houdini were headlining motion pictures at the Happy Hour Theatre here on Main Street.

And almost 400 miles north in the village of Kenogami, Quebec - now part of the city of Saguenay - Ruth (Paine) Hart was born.

This past week, Ruth celebrated her 100th birthday with family and friends during a party at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Lake Placid. Instead of individual invitations, she wrote a letter to the editor in the Lake Placid News inviting the whole community to enjoy tea and birthday cake from 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday, May 2, a day before her birthday. Dozens of people showed up, waiting in line in front of the stone fireplace to speak with Ruth.

"Grandma wanted something small. This is what she got," grandson Hart Shouldice said during a speech at the party. " When you're this loved, when you're this celebrated and you have a story such as Grandma's, this celebration would certainly be fitting."

Ruth likes to defray the spotlight away from herself, focusing instead on others - her late husband George, four daughters and fellow members of the community - so she wanted a simple birthday party. No frills. Her instructions were clear in the letter to the editor: "NO PRESENTS. NO SPEECHES, please."

Well, just one speech, but not too long, please. Hart spoke for the family in the room - daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The son of Ruth's daughter Marilyn Shouldice MacIvor, he's a lawyer from Ottawa, Ontario, so he's used to speaking.

"Hart did a great job," Ruth said. "He was supposed to speak only for 2 minutes, but I think he went overtime."

He wrapped it up just shy of 7 minutes.

"I think it's fair to say, Grandma, to your family, you are a hero," Hart said. "To this community, you are an absolute pillar. And, Grandma, to all of us, you are an absolute treasure. So happy birthday."

After two hours of hugs, kisses and reminisces, Ruth sat on a chair in front of the fireplace. She'd blown out her "100" candles with the help of great-grandson Sam Clark. She'd finished her piece of cake and cup of tea. Rolling around a piece of hard candy in her mouth, she was soaking in the final moments of the party.

"This is wonderful, just to see so many people," Ruth said. "And I saw a couple of women who were George's, just about, his first patients when he started practice in Lake Placid in 1946."

It didn't take much to talk Ruth into holding a 100th birthday party, according to daughter Nancy Beattie, of Lake Placid. She had a similar one last year.

"It was my idea last year," Nancy said. "I said, 'You know, Ma, everybody has a 100th birthday party. You're going to be 99 and that's a very cool number, and I think you should have some sort of a party.'"

Yet for most of her life, birthday parties didn't interest Ruth. That was her husband's thing.

"My father liked his birthday parties from the time he was 3 years old," Nancy said. "My mother never wanted a birthday party. She made it very difficult, or I perceived it as difficult, to celebrate her at all because he made such a big deal and it was so important that he had every person he had ever shook hands with at his birthday party. He loved them. So I think she was just kind of the counterbalance to that."

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Canadian roots

During his speech, Hart said Ruth is proud of her Canadian roots. She still watches CBC News on TV and listens to Montreal Canadiens hockey games on the radio.

"She can still talk hockey with the best of them."

Ruth was born on Saturday, May 3, 1919 to Nathan Deane and Jennie Almond (Hayes) Paine in Kenogami, Quebec. Nathan was from New Hampshire, and Jennie was from Shigawake, Quebec, on the Gaspe Peninsula. Nathan moved to Canada in 1916 and married Jennie on June 29, 1918. Ruth was their first of three children; brothers Deane and Earl arrived in 1923 and 1924, respectively.

Ruth attended McGill University in Montreal, graduating in 1940 with a degree in economics.

"She is so smart," said daughter Ruth Mary Ortloff, of Plattsburgh, who told a story about how her mother got hired by Sun Life Insurance the summer after graduation. "She was at a dinner dance, and three men approached her table and they said, 'You're Ruth Paine?' And she said, 'Yes.' And they said, 'We would like to talk to you.' ... And they interviewed her during the dinner dance. ... That's how recognized she was for her abilities."

In 1941, Ruth met George Hart, a McGill University medical student from Lake Placid. She worked at Sun Life in Montreal while he served as a flight surgeon in the U.S. Army for almost three years during World War II. After the war, they settled in George's hometown, getting married in June 1946 and moving to their first home on Hillcrest Avenue in Lake Placid.

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Life in Lake Placid

"Throughout their life in Lake Placid," Hart Shouldice said in his birthday party speech, "obviously, George was very active. George cast a long shadow. Grandma was never in George's shadow. And sometimes people talk about the person behind the throne. I think in the case of Grandma and George, there were two parallel thrones."

George - who died on May 13, 2014 at the age of 97 - operated a popular medical practice in Lake Placid and became a staff member at Placid Memorial Hospital and the Saranac Lake General Hospital.

"It was a different era when they were married and when they grew up," said daughter Nancy. "And he was the bread winner. She stayed home with the children. She answered the phone and took the house calls. But she had a lot to do with his being able to do that."

But staying home and being a mother to four girls was only part of Ruth's life. She wanted more. She wanted to help the community. So she did.

In 2016, when the Essex County Bar Association gave Ruth its annual Liberty Bell Award - 43 years after her husband received it - her many civic accomplishments were listed in the nomination letter submitted by Lake Placid attorney Janet Bliss.

- Lake Placid Garden Club, president

- Essex County Garden Club, president

- Town of North Elba Zoning Board of Appeals, chair

- Village of Lake Placid Zoning Board, chair

- Lake Placid Center for the Arts board, president

- WCFE-TV, board member

- St. Eustace Episcopal Church, member

- Lake Placid Olympic Organizing Committee, chair of dignitary host services

- Camelot/St. Francis Academy, board of directors

In May 2018, as Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna was announcing Ruth as the latest Lake Placid-North Elba Distinguished Adult Volunteer of the Year, he told a story about when she was president of the Essex County Adirondack Garden Club. The club was hosting the annual meeting of the Garden Clubs of America, which she also chaired, at the Lake Placid Club.

"(It) was filled with women from all over the country," he said. "All those women, but there weren't enough ladies' rooms. Ever the problem solver and the creative thinker, she decided to put pots of geraniums in the urinals, turning the men's rooms into ladies' rooms."

Asked at the time about what gratifies her the most about volunteering, Ruth told the News, "The friends I've made. And you start with an object and it's for the better, and seeing the results."

Ruth said after the Volunteer of the Year ceremony during Lake Placid Community Day that volunteering was just part of daily life.

"And I must have had a most cooperative family who didn't mind. That just hit me today. I thought, 'Oh, my poor family.' But they were part of it, really."

Ruth also said she was most proud of her work to fight Walmart's proposal to build a store in Lake Placid in the 1990s.

"Because when you think, Walmart would now be where Whiteface Lodge is and would be closed. And a lot of businesses on Main Street would be out of business. And that was a three-year battle. ... And it was three years until we got a decision of the New York State Supreme Court, and the decision in our favor hung on really five or six words that the town plan was to preserve the character of the community. And thanks to the good work of wonderful people on our committee, we were able to prove that it would have destroyed the character of the community. And that's why we won the case."

In his speech, Hart said Ruth is a "devoted family woman, devoted member of the local community, someone who has enriched all of our lives" who continues to share her stories and wisdom with family members. She helped him develop his values, sense of family, sense of community and sense of civic duty.

"Very much the person I am is traced back to Grandma and George," Hart said.

Ruth may not be as active in the community as she used to be, but that doesn't mean she's stopped doing things. She still drives a car at age 100, and Hart relayed a driving story she told him recently.

"(She said) 'I backed into a wall, and I really don't think it was my fault.' I said, 'Why don't you think it was your fault?' She said, 'Well, because I've been driving 80 years, and it's never happened before.'"

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Daughter Elizabeth Barrett, Dallas, Texas

Asked how she sees her mother: "It's interesting looking back on high school, college years, and not taking for granted what she did but not understanding how much she contributed to the community. Her humility was incredible, but her activity and her commitment to so many different areas of the community at one time amazed me when we would still come home to a cooked meal every night and she was completely emersed in her family. She was equally as immersed in the community."

Asked what she learned from her mother: "I've had a similar few decades. I have four children. I worked full time. She volunteered full time. Trust me, that was full-time work. I think the family element is as important to keep in the forefront for me as it was for her. ... Every day, there's things that I do, I stop and think, what would Ma do?"

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Daughter Ruth Mary Ortloff, Plattsburgh

Asked what she learned from her mother: "For the last five years, I worked as a nurse in Saranac Lake at St. Joe's. And I worked Tuesdays and Wednesdays. So I would leave Plattsburgh on Tuesday mornings and work all day and then I would come and stay with my mother. ...

"Of course, growing up I learned everything mothers are supposed to teach their daughters, like how to make hospital corners on beds and to be polite and table manners and all that. But the last five years has been an absolute treasure trove of learning things from my mom because it was just the two of us. And I would come home from work about 6 and we'd have a couple of hours to talk. And it was really wonderful. I'm the only one in the family that she talks politics with. And she loves it when I come because she says, 'I can't talk to anybody else about these things except you.' ...

"My mother is so wise about life. And she would say things to us like, if I was being critical of somebody, she would say, 'Well, it takes all kinds to make a world.' And that's incredibly valuable. ...

"My mother has always been a wonderful cook. I never saw her make a cake from a box. Everything was from scratch. Really a wonderful cook. And took her cooking, in terms of her family, as a real responsibility. My father was very basic - meat and potatoes - and he loved his food."

One night Ruth made an apple pie with cheese cooked in it.

"And he took a bite of it. And he said, 'Ruth, what is this awful thing?' And she picked up a fork full of pie and she flung it the length of the table and it landed right on his lapel like it was a boutonniere. And it was wonderful because she is such a lady, and you never think of my mother doing anything like that and we just laughed so hard. ...

"I've always said this about my mother. My father was introduced as her husband as often as she was introduced as his wife. And that's a wonderful balance to a marriage."

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Daughter Marilyn MacIvor, Ottawa, Ontario

Asked what she learned from her mother: "The big thing for me is that women can do anything they want to do. And she did a lot of work in the town and in the village that you would often think a man would do, like doing the zoning board stuff and things like that. But with her, nothing seemed impossible. And she would never call herself a feminist. I would never ask her if she thought of herself as a feminist. ...

"The other thing I learned from her is keep going and use your energy and find your energy. She doesn't like to take naps. She doesn't like to lie down. Now that she's older, she will do it more. But I never saw her in the morning in a house coat. She was always totally dressed. She never took a nap in the afternoon. She just had this incredible work ethic that I think is a wonderful thing to inherit."

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Daughter Nancy Beattie, Lake Placid

Asked what she learned from her mother: "To keep working. And I was almost glad to unlearn that because it was like, you don't sit down until 10 o'clock at night, and even then if you're not done you keep on going. That was a really good work ethic, but it really made me tired. I was glad when I got over it. ...

"She just worked and worked and worked and worked, doing whatever it happened to be for the family or for civic duties, garden club or whatever it was. And she just kept going. So I thought that I had to do that as much as she did. And I wasn't quite as capable. So I was glad when I got over it.

"Also flower arranging. She taught me a lot about flower arranging. I love to do the flowers at church on the altar. I used to love to do garden club flower shows and flower arrangements, and that was all from her. That was a great thing."

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Ruth, the teacher

Asked about what she tried to teach her daughters the most: "You know, I don't think I ever consciously taught them lessons or even thought about it. I think they probably learned a lot from their father seeing the way he devoted himself to his patients. It was never too late to call him. He had years of service without thinking about it. We didn't think about things like that. You just did it."

Asked about her daughters: "They've all been good girls. They've been very supportive, and I'm awfully glad they've been there, and still are. And it's a joy to have their children come and spend time with us."

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Secret to longevity?

Asked about the secret to her mother's longevity, Nancy said, "I think she took good care of herself, not intentionally. She would never have gone organic. She would have never been vegan. But she always took good care of herself. She sleeps very well every night. She goes to sleep at 10 o'clock and doesn't move until 8 o'clock the next morning to this day. And I think getting that kind of sleep is a big deal. ... And she was careful to do moderation in all things. That was one of her mantras."

Asked about the secret to her longevity, Ruth said, "I have no idea, except I say ... This is very flip. I don't smoke, and I don't chew, and I don't go with boys that do. ... And I still drink milk. It's not a vice, but I still drink milk, a lot of it. Good, strong bones, maybe?"

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