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THOMPSON: My sister Ruth, one of the people I most admire

January 27, 2020 - 12:00 PM

OPINION


Who in the entire world - other than your spouse or partner - do you admire most? I asked myself this very question recently one night. It was just after midnight…my favourite time to ruminate and write.

I was alone except for Andy - our Rag Doll cat - whose favourite place to sleep late at night is next to me on a leather sofa. I answered aloud my silent question…“Ruth!” Andy looked up at me in the otherwise quiet room with a look of disturbed surprise, which is more or less his face all the time. Ruth refers to neither Babe Ruth - though I really love baseball - nor an old flame from my high school days.

Ruth is my sister. I often call her “Big Sis” or “Sweetie.” She is - by the way - not very big…barely 5’2” if she stretches…and petite. I doubt she cares for the “Big Sis” moniker…though it’s marginally better than “Older Sis.” But, undeniably, she is about as sweet as they come…so she likely has no problem with “Sweetie.”

Ruth is 83 years old this Wednesday. Now, before you think this is some sappy tribute to an older woman before she kicks the bucket, it is not. Also, most of us have sisters, and most of us probably love those sisters...but this isn’t just an I-love-my-sister-right-or-wrong-story either. It’s an acknowledgement of someone who possesses more good qualities than you might expect to find in a human being…and I’m lucky to have her in my life.

Ruth at 17 years old.
Ruth at 17 years old.

Ruth looks way younger than her years. She seems younger, too, when you see her or talk with her. 

She even moves like someone half her age. Ruth was an athlete growing up…playing basketball with a talent that in today’s more egalitarian society would likely have seen her playing hoops professionally in the WNBA...despite her height-challenged stature! Also, she was Valedictorian of her high school graduating class…so she is pretty smart, as well.

Ruth is one of those people who you hope might be a friend. She would likely be your best friend…if you are worthy. Her standards are high as she sees friendship as a two-way street…and expects what she gives. That’s probably why we’re best friends…accident of birth made us siblings. Brothers and sisters aren’t always friends…best or otherwise. But in our case, we have always been there for each other - and that will never change - which is comforting. That word actually doesn’t seem big enough now that I see it in print.

Ruth and I have spent a lot of time together over the years. I was her baby doll when she was a teenager…and with our 13-year-plus age difference, Ruth was a second mother to me early on. She had fun with me when I was a little guy apparently…photos don’t lie. She dressed me up as a gypsy princess when I was about three - complete with skirt and top, lipstick and head scarf - and the result, I must admit, was quite adorable.

Don Thompson at age 3 playing dress-up with Ruth.
Don Thompson at age 3 playing dress-up with Ruth.

We always liked being together…something that remains true today. In fact, as you read this, she is visiting us in Florida from her home in North Carolina to celebrate her birthday on Jan. 29…and the day after, my wife, Bonnie’s, birthday.

Almost every summer vacation as an adolescent and teenager, I would visit her for a couple weeks in Jacksonville, FL, and we always had the best time together. She was a great cook and would go all out for my visits...introducing me to everything from lobster and Chateaubriand to shrimp étouffée and paella.

We never had to strain to have a great time…we would dance…play basketball…go to the beach…go fishing…laugh...lots of laughs. We still finish each other’s sentences…or simply with a look reach agreement. We share a connection much like twins…but born 13+ years apart.

She flew to Germany when I was in the U.S. Air Force - 1973 - and we toured Europe for five weeks….laughing, eating and drinking, and exploring whatever historical sites caught our attention. Now we all know that travelling with some people can make a day seem like a week. But Ruth’s ease of getting from here to there with a light heart made those five weeks pass all too quickly.

Don Thompson with Ruth Tincher-Evans.
Don Thompson with Ruth Tincher-Evans.

After the Air Force, when I left the University of Florida for my first real civilian job in Washington, D.C., it was Ruth who bought not only my first suit…but a sport coat, slacks, two shirts and ties from a fancy men’s store. “You have to look sharp in a new job,” she said, well aware of my then far-from-flush cash position. Her generosity - to me and others - is legend among family and friends.

Ruth has always had style and grace…two qualities you hope to see in everyone...but rarely do. Her thoughtfulness is something I’m still trying to emulate. It was she who taught me not only when to write a thank you note, but how to write one that goes beyond the obligatory checkmark-in-a-box note. Still, to this day, her old-school ways of writing a sincere thank you…whether after a visit or receiving a gift…makes you realize how much of a lost art it is.

Her notes are Shakespearean.

Wherever around the world we might have been over the years…we not only stayed in touch by phone and correspondence…we often travelled to be with each other for Christmases, Thanksgivings and birthdays…and sometimes for no special occasion at all.

Both of us love travel…and we’ve done a fair amount together…visiting wineries in just about every place they grow grapes and make wine. We’ve been all over the U.S. and at least nine other countries…and never once an argument or disagreement.

Ruth today at 83 years old.
Ruth today at 83 years old.

Ruth had two spouses…divorcing the first. “He didn’t know what he lost until it was too late…and it was too late when he cheated on me,” Ruth explained back in 1972. Her second husband - Ron Evans - was a great guy she knew for a few years before they married…and tragically lost him to pancreatic cancer two years after they married. Nevertheless, she took her vows so seriously, her hyphenated last name...Tincher-Evans...acknowledges both husbands.

Ruth and Ron loved boating and took their Sea Ray all around the waters of Florida and the Bahamas…and on occasion my first wife and I would join them. There was never a time with them that wasn’t fun…and where I wanted to be at that moment. How many people can you say that about?

Ruth - like many of us - has faced some adversity...and she did it about as well as anyone can. She was a caregiver for almost two decades…for her dying husband, our dying father and then looking after our mother who was well almost to the end at 95 but needed help.  Anyone who has been a caregiver knows how difficult it is to get up every day and do everything. You sacrifice…giving up your life…for someone else.

Despite personal losses and challenging times, Ruth never once lost perspective or felt sorry for herself…always considerate of others. She continues to live up to her Biblical name. But make no mistake, Ruth is no “goody two-shoes”…she can hurl a curse word as well as my old drill sergeant. Still, she’s so well-grounded, when I was young I would look at Ruth for a clue as to whether something was right or fair.

“Others face a lot more than I ever have,” she has proclaimed. Fair enough. Also, Ruth has a lifetime of seeing a half-full rather half-empty glass…and that, she once told me, always got her through tough times. “They don’t last,” she said with a smile.

In her career as an insurance company executive and lead auditor for Florida’s Insurance Commissioner, Ruth had a reputation as a leader who was fair and could solve problems quickly. Like our father, I never heard anyone say anything negative about Ruth. I know no one else during my entire life - nearly 70 years - that I can say that about.

Bonnie and I have been together more than eight years…and when Bonnie and Ruth met early on…Bonnie thought better of me because of Ruth. Bonnie got another sister as well as a spouse. Truly…and except on occasion when they gang up on me…which I probably deserve…we are the Three Musketeers.

Yes, among all the brilliant people I’ve known…the great folks I’ve worked with or ever met…famous or not…the person I admire most, I simply call, ”Sweetie”…my “Big Sis”…Ruth.

— Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines. His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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