Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Ruby Matthews, 79, always found a way



By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

WILLIAMSTOWN, Ky. - Ruby Hamlin Matthews bore life's burdens with dignity and resolve.

She went from being a carefree girl who loved to swim at night and dreamed of going to beauty school to a teenage bride and, finally, a divorced mother of three.

"She raised three children on her own, and she did a wonderful job at it," said her oldest son, Grayson Matthews of Williamsburg. "She was always there when we needed her, and she did the best she could do."

Ms. Matthews, 79, died Saturday of a heart attack at Grant Manor Health Care Center in Williamstown.

She grew up in Stearns, Ky., a coal-mining town in McCreary County, where her father was groundskeeper of the golf course. Diminutive and high-spirited, she had her run of the course and loved to sneak into the public pool to swim alone by moonlight.

Ms. Matthews was a homemaker in Stearns until her marriage ended.

"I remember her sitting in the corner terrified because she didn't know how she was going to raise her kids," recalled her daughter, Rebecca Nemke of Clearwater, Fla.

With sole responsibility for the three children - ages 9, 6, and 3 - Ms. Matthews moved to Berea, Ky., then to Somerset, where she worked as a waitress.

"She waited tables across the street from where we lived," her daughter said. "She just made enough to put a roof over our heads and feed us."

A superb seamstress, she would remake hand-me-down clothes to fit her children.

Ms. Matthews moved to Cincinnati around 1954 and went to work in the mailroom at MacGregor Sport Products.

Putting her sewing skills to use, she created a working girl wardrobe. Barely 5 feet tall and weighing under 90 pounds, she cut a striking figure in her handmade clothes. She donned size-4 pumps and had her chocolate-brown hair set into curls.

When it began to turn gray about a decade later, she declared that she loved the new color and had it done up in an elegant side sweep.

At MacGregor, Ms. Matthews worked her way up to mailroom supervisor. When the company moved to Skokie, Ill., in 1974, she opted to retire. But she spent the summer commuting between Skokie and Cincinnati's Northside neighborhood while training her replacement.

Through the years, Ms. Matthews opened her large, old homes - first in College Hill, and later in Northside - to those in need. "She took care of people," her daughter said. "There was always somebody moving into her house who needed a place to stay. She had a big heart."

The last person she cared for was her own mother, who suffered dementia.

"She was always ... willing to help," her son confirmed. "She never let us down."

In addition to her son Grayson and daughter Rebecca, survivors include another son, James Matthews of Crittenden; a sister, Connie Hamlin of Louisville; a brother, Lewis Hamlin of Lexington; nine grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.

At her request, there will be no funeral. Ms. Matthews' remains will be cremated and scattered in Stearns.

E-mail rgoodman@enquirer.com




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