Ruth Long passed away on February 14, 2020 after a valiant battle with cancer. She is preceded in death by her husband, Jack Long; and parents, Ben & Irene James. She is survived by her brother, Roy James, 3 children, 8 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren.
“Don’t marry a salesman,” her mother, Irene, counselled. “Make sure he’s a Methodist,” she advised. Also, it wouldn’t hurt if he were handsome, good natured, with an easy smile. After graduating a year early from McEwen High School in 1953, that advice was on the mind of 17-year-old Ruth Long as she journeyed to the big city to find her new life and possibly a husband. Ninety minutes away, Nashville drew Ruth from the Bold Spring family farm on which she was born. After a few years studying at Fall’s Business School and doing secretarial work for GMAC, Ruth served as Maid-of-Honor at her best friend Darlene’s wedding to Jack Crabtree. Jack’s Best Man, also named Jack, had all the qualities Ruth was looking for in potential husband – except he was a salesman. Insurance sales of all things. But Ruth decided to ignore this one piece of her mother’s advice. After months attending Sunday School with Jack Long at McKendree Methodist in downtown Nashville, they realized they’d found true love in each other. They married in May 1958.
Ruth and Jack’s suburban married life was worlds away from her childhood. Born in 1936 on a 450-acre family farm, Betty Ruth Long (nee James) was the youngest of four – one of her older brothers having died as an infant before she was born. The nearest neighbors were a mile away but close enough to come by on Saturday nights to listen to the Grand Ole Opry and dance in the living room, if her mother Irene would allow it. The James family had a good radio and liked visitors. Older brother Roy, ten years Ruth’s senior, enlisted as a Marine and survived the entirety of the Battle of Iwo Jima during the final two years of WWII. Ruth’s father, Ben James, was a hard-working and sturdy farmer. The family raised cattle, sold milk and beef, raised and slaughtered hogs, raised chickens, sold eggs, grew corn, potatoes and anything else that made sense from year to year. Everyone had a full day’s work on the farm. Ruth was an adept student, walking the two miles to her one-room schoolhouse next to their Methodist Church. She skipped a grade and still found school effortless. After entering the much larger McEwen High school, she became a cheerleader and got her fair share of attention from boys. Despite this, none of the local boys could keep Ruth close to the farm. Years later, it took a young Jack Long to spark Ruth’s interest. Jack was Ruth’s shooting star.
Jack Long was a fearless and ambitious junior agent selling insurance for Liberty Mutual in Nashville. After their marriage, his ambition took the newlyweds to a booming Charlotte, NC in 1959 for his new role as sales manager. Daughter Karen was born in August of 1960. That same year, the young family won an automobile sweepstakes called the “Invitation to Paris,” winning a new Renault Dauphine sedan, an all-expenses-paid trip to Paris, and $250 in cash. Since Ruth and Jack were busy caring for their newborn daughter, they decided to forego the prizes, instead using the cash as down payment on their first house. Son David followed in March of 1963. Son Jason arrived in 1965.
The city of Charlotte was growing fast, and the three Long children could explore their neighborhood on foot or on bicycles with little fear of harm. Dog bites, bee stings, lost turtles, and sticky Krispy Kreme fingers were typical childhood challenges. Suburban life was good for the Longs, and for Ruth – who held court with neighboring mothers over hot coffee while the kids were at school or playing outside. Grace United Methodist Church was a central part of family life each week.
Jack’s professional ambition continued. In 1973 he respectfully resigned from Liberty Mutual and planned a move back to East Tennessee to open his own insurance firm. Liberty Mutual wouldn’t hear of losing Jack, instead offering a promotion to their large Nashville office and an opportunity for the couple to return to their beloved Middle Tennessee. Ruth and Jack purchased the last house in a recently completed sub-division in Brentwood, across the street from the newly constructed Methodist church. Ruth, Jack and the children joined the “old” Brentwood Methodist Church and walked with that congregation down the hill from the old church to the new church building one chilly Sunday morning.
Ruth quickly established the newly arrived Long family as faithful church goers. The family rarely missed Sunday morning services, Sunday School, Sunday night fellowships, Wednesday night potlucks, retreats, choirs, hosting homeless, youth groups; indeed, the Longs were fixtures at BUMC from 1973 until 2009, when Ruth’s diabetes made it prudent for her to move into assisted living and cease driving.
From the mid-eighties through the mid-nineties, Ruth and Jack saw their three children marry and depart Tennessee for other Southern cities: Paris Island, SC, New Orleans, LA, Oxford MS, Alexandria, VA, Louisville KY, Winston-Salem NC – as well as a distant and decidedly un-Southern San Francisco, CA. These places became the destinations of countless trips and adventures by Ruth and Jack – until Jack unexpectedly had a heart attack and passed in February 1997. His large, gentle presence would be missed each day for the rest of Ruth’s life. Although his light had dimmed, it continued to shine bright in Ruth’s heart. Daughter Karen returned to Middle Tennessee where she and her entire family remain today. Grandchildren began arriving in 1989 and continued until 2013, twenty-four years later. Ruth’s grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren born in the past two years, became the joy and focus for the remainder of Ruth’s life.
To know Ruth is to know that she held the most special place in her heart for children. No one loved children more than Ruth. The younger the child, the more Ruth was amazed and delighted by these tiny humans. Her love for children extended to her work at Brentwood Methodist’s preschool and at a nearby Montessori school during the 1980’s and 1990’s. When Jack’s dementia became pronounced during the early 90’s, Ruth looked after one child at a time in her Brentwood home, juggling between caring for her husband and the children of close friends. It kept her busy, but it also fed her soul during the challenging time of Jack’s decline.
Although respectful to other seniors as she herself moved through their ranks, Ruth had little time for those of her generation who lost or had never truly found their zeal for life. Ruth adored smart, funny, engaging conversationalists. Fortunately, her life was full of them as she sought out those friends, neighbors, caregivers, and congregants who could spin a good yarn or had clever insights to share about society, politics, books, and the Bible.
Ruth loved to laugh and often delighted in any good reason to howl with laughter. Her heartiest laughs combined elements of leaning back to look skyward, a sudden shriek and then a hand placed over her mouth to “catch” her sudden outburst. Her laughs were frequent, infectious and were a key reason her presence was sought out by friends and caregivers – right up until the final days of her life.
Ruth’s leaving Brentwood made it harder to stay in close touch with her cherished church friends and close neighbors. But her social and feisty nature became apparent as she quickly befriended select residents and many caregivers in her new assisted living facilities: The Cumberland at Green Hills, Morning Pointe and later The Somerby of Franklin. At The Cumberland she began a practice of convening non-sanctioned weekly staff meetings. She’d plan each meeting to ensure the right snacks and drinks were at hand. Caregivers would come on their day off and stay beyond their shifts to attend. Management was never invited, nor was it welcome. Ruth created a space for the young people who cared for her to come together to laugh, gossip and work through problems. After five years at The Cumberland and various staff and resident changes, it was time to move on. Ruth ended up at The Somerby in Franklin, another lovely facility where she continued her empathetic and close connections with her caregivers.
Ruth’s favorite vacations were with family or visiting family. But there was one special place where she got to do both: The Chautauqua Institution in Western New York. Chautauqua appealed to Ruth because it brought together her children, grandchildren, cousins and (on occasion) her beloved sister Peg. As a “camp of ideas for the entire family” co-founded in 1874 by a Methodist minister, Chautauqua fed Ruth’s life-long curiosity and spiritual nature. For many summers, she delighted in daily church services, followed by lectures from world leaders and educators. Evenings would be spent having dinner on the porch with family, followed by music or dance performances in a covered amphitheater built in 1890. All this combined to create a full day of spiritual, intellectual and social stimulus – and it fed Ruth’s soul. One of her granddaughters has called Chautauqua Ruth’s “happy place.”
Although the years accumulated, Ruth’s nature remained ever young. She was playful and curious throughout her life, and this connected her to friends of all ages. Ruth was generous, loving, witty, opinionated, and feisty (she could hold a grudge). Her indomitable spirit was shaken when her sister Peg died in 2017, and Ruth spoke of how she missed and wished to see her, Jack and her parents again when her time came. It is fitting that Ruth Long died on Valentine’s Day, as there is so much love for her in this world, and infinite love awaiting her in the next.
Ruth’s funeral service will be on Friday, February 21 at 2:30 pm following a time of visitation beginning at 1:00 pm at Brentwood United Methodist Church.
To leave a note for Ruth’s family or to share a memory, please sign the online guestbook.