Ruth – Mum!Wonderwoman – pretty much … Friday 23rd and it seemed like the end of our world….she was always there for us and although we can’t say she never questioned what we were doing, she backed us all the way. Now who are we going to ring and ask: “When do I water my orchids?”; ”Who wrote …?”; “You know that music we sung with Joyce? What was it called?”
Ruth Mary Ross Mackenzie
Mum was born Ruth Mary Ross Mackenzie on 11th May 1924 in Kingscliffe, Northants, to a Scottish doctor and his wife, the daughter of a clergyman. When it was time for her and elder sister, Jean, to start school the family moved to 119 North Side, Clapham Common, with the doctor’s surgery in the front room of the house, and the waiting room in the dining room behind. Here she and Jean led a happy childhood riding their large wooden horse, and playing with their dolls in their attic nursery cum bedroom, practising the piano and taking the dog for a walk.
School days were equally enjoyable. Mum excelled at Clapham High School for Girls, later to be amalgamated with Streatham Hill High. Long standing friend Mollie Butcher remembers crossing Clapham Common being escorted by their mothers and Blackie the dog. Mum remembered getting into trouble for throwing snowballs at a slightly younger girl who walked with them – she was Nicholas Parson’s sister, whom they called Baby P as they considered her ‘soft’.
Mum was 15 when war broke out and was evacuated to Brighton where she completed some of her exams. Then it was considered more dangerous to be on the coast, due to the threat of invasion so she was brought home and again Mollie remembers spending many an hour in the Mackenzie cellar during the threat of air raids struggling with school homework, and then cycling to school the next day spotting the newly bombed buildings.
In 1942 Mum started her degree course at L.S.E., which had been evacuated to Cambridge, and there met up again with another old school friend, Maggie Higgs who remembers singing the B Minor Mass with her in CUMS, in Kings College Chapel with a young unknown contralto by the name of Kathleen Ferrier.
The degree was completed in 2 years as it was war time and the rest of the war was spent doing Youth Work in Battersea for the inspirational Reverend Stephan Hopkinson – later to officiate at Mum and Dad’s wedding.
After the war, Mum worked for PEP (Political and Economic Planning) in Queen Anne’s Gate, a British Policy Think Tank. She found time for relaxation however, auditioning with Maggie successfully for the London Philharmonic Choir, and joining the Heathfield Tennis Club in Wandsworth, with many of the South London set. There she met Derek, an art teacher.
They married and settled into family life in Wimbledon, producing three daughters, Judith, and the twins, Angela and Joanna. For two weeks Mum had three children under two, in the days before automatic washing machines, disposable nappies, or other mod-cons – in an upstairs flat. It can’t have been easy but this didn’t deter Mum who took it all in her stride.
Later, as we got older, she took up her singing again, this time with the Wimbledon Hill Singers. She and Dad also took advantage of living in Wimbledon, taking turns cycling down to the All England Lawn Tennis Championships for an evening session while the other babysat.
Our first holiday was at Hayling Island. We borrowed Uncle Peter’s car and Mum rushed around collecting all that a young family needed for two weeks away at the beach: potties, high-chairs, buckets and spades, bats and balls, and, of course, clothes for us all. But, to her horror, she had omitted to pack her own underwear! Fortunately the peppermint skirt, her holiday attire for seemingly 20 years, was there.
In 1961 we moved to a very individual house in Carlton Road, Redhill and as we got older, Mum took a job teaching History, part-time, at Reigate County School. After leaving there she had two other jobs. The first was writing the blurb for clothing entries for Freeman’s Catalogue in Brixton. This, as far as we were concerned, as fashion-conscious teenagers, was an ideal job as she kitted us out and some of our friends too, from the seconds shop there!
The second job was at the Path Lab at the old Redhill General Hospital, which was slightly easier to get to.
More time, however, seemed to be spent on musical activities and the secretarial duties associated with them. She was Joyce Hooper’s right-hand woman in the Redhill Madrigal Singers – two highlights being when they sang at the Llangollen Eisteddford and in the Purcell Room at the Festival Hall in 1972. She also sang in the Redhill Bach Choir and The Gilbert and Sullivan Society. In 1970, when Joyce formed Surrey Opera, she became the secretary when they performed the Magic Flute. Later the baton was taken over by Jonathan Butcher and Mum continued to sing in the chorus and provide support — lately, which included being President of the Society. We are so grateful to Jonathan and singing friends of Mum’s who have given up their time to sing in our choir today.
Mum and Dad were life-long supporters of the Left and the Labour Party and she always supported the underdog. She made a specific request that we should mention this! Her views did not always endear her to everyone and one knew when to speak and when keep silent at times!
One of our overriding memories is how we often went out for the day as a family to visit various places of interest, such as a National Trust house, a garden or simply a long walk. With Dad driving, Mum could direct us down country lanes – the narrower the better, and as Dad used to say – It wasn’t a proper day out if we didn’t drive down single track roads with grass growing in the middle.
The journeys were never dull as all geographical features or other points of interest along the route were pointed out and expounded upon.
On longer journeys Mum introduced many games to keep us amused and, of course, there was always singing – numbers ranging from The Sound of Music to The Magic Flute, often in 3 part harmony.
In December 1982, unfortunately Dad died suddenly, just before retiring. This hit Mum hard, but true to her character she gradually bounced back. She moved to a smaller house in Reigate with a tiny garden that she loved tending, and although music still played an important part in her life, she developed other interests – she chose to work voluntarily for the CAB, in Crawley, for many years. She played badminton at Donyngs, table-tennis at the YMCA, and of course bridge. Through these activities she made lots of new friends, many of whom are here today. As well as this, she continued to cultivate her love of the theatre and travel, her passion for reading and was a great supporter of The National Trust.
Another significant part of Mum’s life has been her grandchildren, who, although widely scattered, have been a source of pride to her, always enjoying being involved in their lives.
Mum organized a couple of family reunions ‐ the last one in Derbyshire, where she managed to find a house with activities to accommodate all of us whose ages ranged from 7-79. These included table-tennis and board games at which, you can imagine, she beat us all.
CONCLUSION: So let us continue our celebration of the life of a truly courageous and tenacious woman who had an amazing capacity to embrace old traditions whilst recognizing the passions and needs of the next generation. That’s our Mum.
Written by daughters Judith, Angela and Jo