A Life: Ruth Jeffers Wellington, 1923 to 2019; ‘She just had so many interests’

  • Ruth Wellington celebrates her 92nd birthday with her favorite music - jazz. (Family photograph)

  • Ruth Wellington in a Nov. 2018 photograph. (Family photograph)

  • Ruth and Steve Wellington in an undated photograph. (Family photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/18/2019 9:52:51 PM

PIKE, N.H. — While Ruth Jeffers Wellington wasn’t hurrying out the door of her already long life, she knew how she wanted to leave it.

You can look it up.

“I picture that one day … my life will end while I am standing at my stove in the big yellow house in the village of Pike,” Wellington told oral historian Peggy Silva in 2009, for the 32-page memoir An Incomplete Story of My Life. “I hope my children celebrate my life with a great party and some good jazz — a New Orleans-style funeral.”

Wellington nearly pulled off the first goal, dying in her sleep, at age 96, on July 25 in the house that her Grandfather Jeffers built in 1895, and into which she and her husband Steve Wellington retired in 1972.

As for the latter aim, not to worry: On Saturday (Aug. 24), after a memorial service at the First Congregational Church of Haverhill, Ruth Wellington’s five children and many other descendants, relations and friends will parade in Pike during a jazz-soaked party at the barn that her family sold in 1924 and that her son Weston eventually bought back and converted into an events venue.

“We’re making the handkerchiefs right now for the second line that will follow the brass band,” Ruth’s daughter Beth Carter Wellington said last week. “She became a maniac about New Orleans jazz after my father passed (in 2011). She just could not be put down.

“She was on fire.”

And at 88, this only child of New Hampshire Yankees and wife of a Boston Brahmin was just warming up.

“I learned to love jazz through Ruth,” Campton, N.H., resident Mary Joyce said last week. “We’d go to concerts and festivals around Boston, at Plymouth State University, wherever someone she wanted to hear was playing. We went to the Suncoast Jazz Festival in Clearwater, Fla., the last three Novembers. We went to the first was when she was, I think, 93.

“She just had so many interests.”

While she and Steve raised their children in the Boston suburbs after World War II, Ruth’s interests ranged from travel — among the highlights a stay of six weeks in England in 1953, built around Queen Elizabeth’s coronation — to their kids’ many activities. As their two daughters and three sons grew, the Wellingtons gave each a long leash. The longest? Probably Beth’s joining a sketchy circus for the summer of 1971 at age 17, an experience Beth turned into Circus Girl, a novel published in 2017.

“Beth pushed boundaries,” Ruth said in her memoir. “Beth tested my motherhood.”

In the long run, Beth appreciated her mother’s self-restraint.

“She was the opposite of a helicopter parent,” said Beth, who now lives, writes and teaches outside Boston. “She had a lot of faith in our interest in developing our potential.

“She wanted everybody to flourish.”

Ruth’s turn to flourish came in the early 1970s, when she and Steve decided to make the Jeffers homestead, long the Wellingtons’ summer retreat, their year-round home.

“It turned out to be a huge adjustment,” she said in her memoir in 2009. “In our Newton (Mass.) neighborhood, friends would drop by for coffee, and we would hold impromptu cookouts and barbecues. That did not happen in Pike.”

The Wellingtons made it happen in Pike and Upper Valley-wide, first by joining the board of the Friends of the Hopkins Center in Hanover, which Ruth chaired for seven years.

“It opened up a new social life for Steve and me,” Ruth recalled. “And our lives were very rich and full.”

She filled it further as an early supporter of the Montshire Museum of Science, and as president of River City Arts, the precursor organization that grew into Northern Stage.

Closer to Pike, Ruth joined civic groups such as the Ladies of Monday Evening Club, who brought speakers on various topics of interest to the home of pop and cabaret singer Betty Johnson, who moved her family to Haverhill in the 1960s.

“Ruth would come in from doing her (maple) sugaring and farm chores,” Johnson, who turned 90 earlier this year, recalled on Friday. “She would drop on the sofa and say, ‘It’s so good to sit down.’ ”

Come 1987, Johnson and Wellington would help found the Haverhill Garden Club, which did beautification projects from the triangle at the Haverhill Corners historic district to the Haverhill fire department. And if any members got too bound up in bylaws and rules, Wellington would politely but firmly issue a reminder.

“She would say, ‘Look, we are a social club,’ ” Johnson said. “’We’re here for women, to help women, in all ways, not just with flowers.’ ”

Wellington would continue to put her money and her principles where her mouth was when it came to helping women. She joined to the New Hampshire Commission on the Status of Women, which led the campaign for state-funded services for victims of domestic violence. She’d been inspired by the stories that women in the Boston corrections systems told her during visits in the 1960s.

“She told me once, ‘There’s a lot of ugliness out there that needs to be addressed,’ ” Beth Wellington recalls. “She was really in the corner of women who were up against it.”

That included at-risk teen girls, whom Wellington served for more than 20 years through the board of the Circle Program, which provided its clients with mentors and summer-camp scholarships.

“Steve had supported a similar non-profit that served at-risk boys, which became sort of a model for this first such program for girls,” said Mary Joyce, whom Wellington helped hire as executive director in 1996. “Ruth supported us for many years.”

And after Steve died in 2011, Joyce added, “she was very keen on being supportive of as many things as she could. She was a real philanthropist.”

In addition to giving money, she also showed up to cheer on the beneficiaries. Exhibit A: the Friends of New Hampshire Drug Courts, which supports the statewide system that provides people convicted of narcotics offenses a variety of alternatives to long jail sentences.

“Ruth became involved by coming to the graduations” at the Grafton County courthouse in North Haverhill, said Friends member and Haverhill resident Ed Rajsteter. “She would be moved by the stories that the participants would tell. After the graduation, she would speak to them and welcome them back into the community.”

Members of Ruth Wellington’s community of family and friends made the pilgrimage to her yellow house in Pike in mid — and late July to bid her farewell.

“People were coming in waves and waves,” Beth Wellington recalled. “She was still talking and alert. She got to say goodbye to people. … Isn’t that how everybody wants to go? I think that’s what’s bringing so much energy to this moment. She’s a bonfire.

“We’re just trying to carry the spirit flame.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.

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