~ August 9, 1930 - November 21, 2021 ~
SALEM – Long-time Farm Point resident Ruth Beebe-Center — known in the Gatineau as Ruth Milne — died at the age of 91 on Sunday, November 21, 2021 at home in Salem, Massachusetts.Born Ruth Starbuck Nicholson on August 9, 1930 at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, she was one of four daughters of Lowell Starbuck Nicholson and Anna Symonds Horton. Twice married, the mother of six and stepmother of five, Ruth grew up in Salem and resided throughout New England and Canada for six decades before returning to spend the last eight years of her life in a house in Salem built by her great-grandfather.
Ruth graduated from Salem High School in 1947 (yearbook quote: “Some play to live; I live to play.”), completed a post-graduate year at Brimmer and May School in Boston, and in 1948 enrolled at Mount Holyoke College. Despite being a capable student, the constraints of life at a women’s college did not agree with Ruth and she engineered her expulsion in the spring of her freshman year – by boycotting exams and playing bridge instead. From Mount Holyoke Ruth headed to New York City, where she is rumored to have worked in the offices of Time and Life magazines and where, most certainly, she had enough fun in the course of a year to fuel a lifetime’s worth of stories.
In 1951 Ruth married John Gilbert Beebe-Center, Jr., of Swampscott, Massachusetts, a naval architect in the U.S. Coast Guard. Ruth and John migrated, with changing Coast Guard postings, from Maine to Washington, DC and Connecticut, producing six children along the way. After John’s death in 1966, Ruth moved the family to Harvard, Massachusetts, chosen in part for its strategic location relative to Salem – close enough for her parents to visit and sufficiently distant for an independent-minded widow. Ruth became an active member of Harvard’s Unitarian church, supported local and state political campaigns, served on various mental health committees, and volunteered at a crisis hotline. Ruth was instrumental in establishing the Concord-Assabet School (now called the Walden Street School), a pioneering residential therapeutic facility in Concord, Massachusetts for teenaged girls in crisis. Ruth maintained an open-door policy at her large house on the common in Harvard, which became a venue for committee meetings, bridge parties, Ruth’s famous roast beef dinners, and an informal teen center – the latter at times arousing the professional interest of the local constabulary.
In 1979 Ruth married William Joseph Milne, of Montreal, Quebec, a naval architect, and moved to St. John’s, Newfoundland, where Bill founded the Department of Ocean and Naval Architectural Engineering at Memorial University. In Newfoundland, Ruth exercised her alchemist’s knack for transforming acquaintance into enduring friendship and friends into extended family. Abetted by Ruth’s roast beef dinners, the Milne household in Torbay became a second home for Bill’s naval architecture students and a center of gravity for a diverse group of native Newfoundlanders, expatriate university professors, and transatlantic sailors, among others.
Upon Bill’s retirement in 1995, he and Ruth took up residence in the Milne family house at Farm Point, Quebec, on the Gatineau River. There Ruth conjured a community of close friends, volunteered at the local hospital and library, and founded a Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship. Growing branches of their combined Canadian and American family regularly descended on Ruth and Bill, ringing in each new year with a huge dinner party and towering bonfire.
After Bill died in 2006, Ruth remained at Farm Point, commuting by car monthly to visit family in New England. When her incipient Alzheimer’s nearly
sparked an international incident during one border crossing, Ruth returned to Salem for good. Despite her Alzheimer’s, which mercifully advanced at a walking pace, Ruth retained her vigor and pluck, even spending time this past summer at her cottage on Baker’s Island in Salem – the place nearest to her heart where her roots ran deepest – as she had every year since 1930.
In the final passage of her life, Ruth was surrounded by family, comfortable at home, and cared for by expert and loving caregivers. To the very end, Ruth recognized those she loved and the love they gave her – right up to the moment she breathed her last in the front room of the family house in Salem.
Ruth is survived by her sister Lois; her children Anne, Roxanna, John, Lowell, Horton, and Walter; her stepchildren Christopher, Geoffrey, Merry Jill, Joseph, and Jonathan; her grandchildren Bill, Anna, Nic, John,
Margaret, Henry, and Roxanna; her step-grandchildren Shane, Craig, Natasha, Jacqueline, Alissa, and Deegan; her great-grandchildren Grace, Teddy, and Callie; and many nieces, nephews and their children. Donations in Ruth’s memory may be made to Child Haven International (www.childhaven.ca).
A memorial service will be held on Sunday, December 19 at 2:00 PM at Hamilton Hall, 9 Chestnut Street in Salem, Massachusetts.