Mary Star of the Sea, La Jolla, California
To tell the story of our mother, is to tell the story of courage, imagination, independence, wisdom and grace. First in her class at Saginaw High School and first woman in her family to graduate from college, Ruth Mary Picard Campbell was always the smartest in the room, the most knowledgeable of current events and the sharpest, most irreverent wit. We knew and loved her as our matriarch: mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She took these roles seriously. Advanced years allowed her to enjoy the fruits of her lifetime labor to stitch our family – her family - together.
She said that every child realizes a different part - even a different ambition – of a mother, and that she was lucky to have so many children to have so many sides of herself expressed.
Her faith was a source of strength and solace, and its practice and rituals find expression in Ann’s religious devotion. She loved to play piano and sing, and this passion lives on in Tracy, musician and music teacher. She passed her sense of adventure to Judy, whose travels began as a toddler in post-war Japan, and included a harrowing ride by cargo plane over the Pacific. She gave to Scott deep connections to her Michigan values and roots, including her cherished Camp Miniwanca, alma mater University of Michigan and dear friends Gerald, Edna and Jack. She valued independence and business acumen in women, and took great pride in Sara founding and becoming CEO, as well as delight in their shared bond to elect the first woman president. She gave to me her belief in the power of education to widen minds, hearts and opportunities for herself and others.
As a self described “family manager”, she invented the Birthday Fairy and annual “Children’s Day” when we had the run of the house. She created “Camp Grandmere” for all cousins, and welcomed grandchildren for extended stays and took each on a special trip outside the U.S.. One day she bent down to kiss her first grandchild, Terra, age five, who pulled back, saying “ You smell like smoke.” Grandmere never picked up another cigarette. “I care how my grandchildren will remember me, “ she explained.
But she didn’t live only in relation to her family. An engaged citizen and loyal friend, at age 51 she became an accomplished travel professional who explored the world, including China, Peru, Russia, Kenya, and Morocco. She loved her work because people are happy planning trips, she said. Her specialty was family trips, including many for us.
In 1970, she welcomed a 19 year old woman, Angelica Valenzuela, from San Luci de Potosi, Mexico to work in our home. She encouraged and supported Angelica to attend English and citizenship classes, both with success. Angelica married and had two children, and when she became a single parent, our Mom invited Angelica and her children back to her home, ensuring their education would be uninterrupted. Angelica shared a home with our mother longer than anyone else – more than 45 years. Despite social barriers and prejudices that might have kept them at a distance, Angelica became a true companion - and bedrock - to our mother. In this time of ugly talk about immigrants, our mother’s legacy of opening her heart to an unlikely friendship is an example of love to us all.
Three and a half years ago, our mother nearly died from sepsis. Dr. Joe Andrews, her devoted personal physician, dubbed her “bionic”. In the hospital, one night she told me, “I’m not ready to go.” She packed more love of politics, life and family into these final, very special years than most people pack into a lifetime. She lit up when her great-grandchildren came to visit, and stayed to share chocolates, a game of Scrabble, word games on tv, or the current delegate count.
It was her fervent hope that we would, as she’d say, “always have each other”. May we honor her intent for many generations. We were blessed to have known and loved her and to have been known and loved by her. She will always be in our hearts daring each of us to be “My own self, at my very best, all the time.”
By Meg Campbell