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January 28th, 2012

dee_burris: (Default)
Saturday, January 28th, 2012 09:00 am
The end of Ruth's life is, unfortunately, the part for which the greatest amount of information survives, both in terms of family anecdotes and written documentation.

For years, all I knew of Aunt Ruth was what I as a young child had taken from snippets of adult conversation I overheard. In my mind's eye, I pictured a stern, no-nonsense woman in sensible shoes - one with a good head for business, but not much heart for people.

This photo, taken not long before her death in 1959, seemed to support that vision.

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However, that's not what the evidence - sketchy as it may be - shows.
After her husband's death in 1948, Ruth's role in the Brandon Company changed, but she remained a vital part of the business until her death.

The 1949 Polk's Directory for Little Rock.North Little Rock shows the principals of the business as as Walter N Brandon (this was Walter Jr., Ruth's step-son) President, Mary P Brandon, Vice President (Walter Jr.'s wife) and Ruth B Brandon, Sec/Treasurer.
Two letters found among my grandmother's personal effects after her death in 1998 painted vastly different pictures of Ruth Balding.

The first was a letter from one of Ruth's sisters to another in 1957, relating the first sister's disgust with Ruth's behavior on a recent visit to her sister's home. In it, the sister said (among other things), "You've let her get by with everything just because of that disease she has and she's making herself obnoxious to everybody." She closed the letter with, "If you repeat any of this, I'll deny it."

The disease Ruth had was called lymphatic leukemia in the 1950s. Today, it is called lymphocytic leukemia, and given the amount of time between the 1957 letter and her death on 30 Dec 1959, I think it's possible she had chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Ruth executed a will on 12 March 1956, almost 18 months before the letter referenced above. Whether she decided to make a will because she found out she had incurable cancer (as it was considered then), or simply because she felt it was time, I don't know. Today, median survival of patients with this form of leukemia is 8–10 years, compared with 5–6 years in series reported in the 1970s.

In her will, Ruth directed that the stock she owned in the Brandon Company be sold, with her step-son, Walter N Brandon, Jr., having the first option to buy it. She also directed that her home, automobile and personal effects be sold, and with the proceeds from the sale of the stock, all net proceeds were to be divided - with one third going to her mother, and the remaining two-thirds divided equally among her siblings.

At her death, Ruth would continue to provide for the welfare of her family.
The second letter was from Ruth to the sister who authored the 1957 letter, and was written five months before her death, in July 1959.

I had the distinct impression as I read the letter that somehow Ruth found out that at least two of her sisters were talking about her behind her back, and one of them had a major axe to grind.

In the letter, Ruth related a story to her sister about one of their brothers who, in 1948 (the year Walter Brandon died and Ruth became a fairly wealthy widow), had borrowed several thousand dollars from Ruth - interest free - to start his own business. As of the date of Ruth's letter, her brother had yet to repay a penny to her, although his business was thriving, and he had purchased two new cars and a boat. He also borrowed money from their mother for his business, and Ruth had insisted that her brother pay their mother interest on that loan, due to Hattie Balding being on a fixed income.

I wondered why this letter was in my grandmother's personal effects at the time of her death. It was not addressed to her. It had been forwarded by the sister who received it to one of their brothers almost one month after Ruth's funeral in 1960.

My aunt was able to provide the explanation for that. Apparently my grandmother had advocated unsuccessfully for her brother (the subject of Ruth's letter to her sister in 1959), the executor of Ruth's estate, to forego taking the 6% of Ruth's estate as her executor, since he still owed the estate the entire debt described in the 1959 letter. Their mother's share of the estate would be reduced by his administrator's fee.

According to my aunt, my grandmother was the lone voice crying in the wilderness. Her brother was unmoved, and the rest of her siblings refused to back her up.

The family photo from which I cropped the picture of Ruth above now seemed to make more sense.

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I had often looked at that photo and felt that Ruth was quite separated from her family. In fact, she seemed to me to be poised for flight in her very sensible shoes.
Not long before her death, Ruth fired her housekeeper.

But she couldn't get rid of her. The woman wouldn't leave Ruth's home. Not only that, but the former housekeeper threatened Ruth.

Ruth called one of her nephews to see if he would come over and make the woman leave. He did, by telling her she had two choices - to leave under her own steam or with police escort.

Afterward, Ruth was still fearful of the threat. She retrieved a revolver owned by her late husband, and asked her nephew to load it for her.

On 18 December 1959, Ruth went to see her personal physician. What they discussed is unknown, but I think it is reasonable to believe her illness would have been part of that discussion. That was the last time her doctor saw her alive. From my sister's recollection of conversations with our grandmother (Ruth's younger sister), Ruth was in extreme pain due to her illness for quite some time before her death.

Shortly before 5 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 December 1959, Ruth Balding Brandon climbed the stairs to her bedroom in her home on South Battery Street, tied herself into her rocking chair, and shot herself in the left chest. Her nephew felt incredible guilt.

Ruth was the first born of her siblings, and the first to die. She was 56 years, 7 months, and 22 days old.

She was buried in the Balding family plot in Roselawn Memorial Park in Little Rock on 1 January 1960.

From the sermon preached at her funeral, I note the following:

...We thank Thee for her strong sense of duty, her strength of will
and the fidelity with which she performed the tasks of life.
We thank Thee that in the world of business she lost nothing
of her high ideals and made no compromise of her womanly character...
We thank Thee for the heart of compassion that was within her
and which overflowed with countless deeds of generous love and
thoughtfulness. We thank Thee that these qualities of character
were not intermittent or transitory but the expression of a
steadfast purpose, followed through a lifetime.


I wish I had known her.
I'll meet you on the other side, Aunt Ruth.

Feel free to leave virtual flowers at Ruth's Find a Grave memorial, by clicking here.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
dee_burris: (Default)
Saturday, January 28th, 2012 09:01 am
On 21 May 1932, when she was 29 years old, Ruth married her boss, Walter Nathan Brandon, Sr. He was just a few months younger than Ruth's father. Ruth was Walter's third wife.

From a business standpoint, the match was an excellent one. Ruth was already the company bookkeeper, and the 1937 Polk's Directory for Little Rock/North Little Rock listed principals of the business as Benton D Brandon, President; Walter N Brandon, Vice President, and Ruth Brandon, Secretary/Treasurer.

According to the company's current website, ...the Brandon Co was founded in 1903, as a supplier of sundries, heaters, stoves, linoleum, and rugs to hardware and general stores throughout Arkansas. The company distributed products from several flooring manufacturers including Sandura, Rubberoid, Pabco, Armstrong, Mannigton Mills, and G.A.F. Brandon quickly gained a reputation for being the leading distributor in Arkansas for flooring, as well as stoves and hardware.

The Company was originally located at 610 East Markham Street in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the 1930's, Brandon Co. suffered a fire at its original location and moved next door to 608 East Markham Street. This is where Brandon Company called home for the next 60 years, until 1994 when Brandon Company expanded to its current location at 401 North Vine Street in North Little Rock, Arkansas.


By 1942, the principals in the Brandon Company were Walter and Ruth.
After their marriage, the Brandons lived in Walter's home at 1922 South Battery Street in Little Rock. For a period of time, Walter's son from his second marriage to Alma Mabel Spinner (who died in 1930), Walter Nathan Brandon, Jr., lived with them.

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Photo taken 2 Jan 2012


It was from Walter Jr.'s young daughter that Ruth purchased cartons of Girl Scout cookies to ship to one of her nephews stationed overseas - an act of thoughtfulness that got her nephew teased by the men in his unit about which troop he belonged to.

That same nephew sought Ruth's career advice when he returned from his military service, and he was employed by the Brandon Company for several years.

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Ruth and Walter Brandon, undated photo.

Although Ruth and Walter Brandon were married for sixteen years, they did not have any children together.

Several members of my family think it was possible Ruth had enough of raising children while she was growing up.

On her 45th birthday, 9 May 1948, Ruth's husband died. He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Little Rock, in the Brandon family plot.

And the dynamics of Ruth's family began to change.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
dee_burris: (Default)
Saturday, January 28th, 2012 09:03 am
With much thanks to my cousin, we have some photos from a scrapbook Ruth kept of travels of the Balding clan to several states in the United States, beginning in the roaring 20s.

Before my cousin and I spoke by phone about my plan to write this series of blogposts about Ruth, I never knew the album existed or that the Balding family had taken these vacations.

Neither had my cousins, or my sister. None of us can recollect our grandmother, who went on many of these trips, saying a word about them.

The photos provide a rare glimpse of our Balding family taking pleasure in travel, and in each other's company.
One question I had was - how did the family afford to travel? My remembrances of discussions with my grandmother focused on how tight finances were for the Baldings. Ruth and her father supported the family with their jobs.

My theory about how they were able to travel is connected to Pop Balding's job. In 1904, Victor Balding began working for the railroad as a telegrapher. He advanced to chief telegrapher, and worked for the railroad for 38 years, until his retirement in 1942, just three years before his death.

I think it was likely that, as a perk of Victor's job, he and his family were able to travel by train either at greatly reduced fares, or perhaps, free.

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Ruth, 1922. Photo was captioned, "Sweet 19."

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Ruth (r) and her friend, Anita (l). Photo, 1922

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Doris Geneva Balding. Photo circa 1923-1924.

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Russell Ellington (Linky) and Marvin Parrish Balding. Photo circa 1923.

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Hattie Chapin Balding.

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Hattie playing in the ocean,. Photo circa 1925.

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Harassing the wildlife. Photo circa early 1920s

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Sombreros on Russell (Linky), Murnie and Vera.

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Ruth, Santa Monica CA, July 1926




Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
dee_burris: (Default)
Saturday, January 28th, 2012 09:05 am
I think of them as my orphan relatives.

The ones who left no descendants - no one to tell their stories. The aunts and uncles who may or may not be remembered fondly - or at all.

As generations pass, those who knew the stories of the orphan relatives pass on also.

The stories are lost.

I'm going to try and piece together the story of my grand aunt, Ruth Lucille Balding. I'm getting some help from first cousins in California and New York, an aunt in Texas, my sister, and all the old familiar resources available to family historians.

I recognize that perspective is subjective. Ruth's siblings no doubt had their own perspectives on their family of origin, and passed those down to their descendants.

I hope I do Ruth justice in the telling of her story.
Ruth Lucille Balding was born in Little Rock, Pulaski Co., AR on 9 May 1903 to her 15 year old mother Hattie Belle Chapin, and her 29 year old father, Victor Claude Balding.

Ruth lived in Little Rock all her life.

I believe she was named for another Ruth, her mother's sister, who died when Hattie Chapin was about 5 years old. Three years after Ruth Chapin's death in 1892, Fred Chapin brought his wife Eada, and 8 year old daughter, Hattie, from Fort Scott to Little Rock.

I think her sister must have been on Hattie's mind when her first daughter was born.

Hattie and Victor had six other children after Ruth - Eugene Victor in 1905; Doris Geneva in 1907; Vera Virginia in 1910; Marion Chapin "Murnie" in 1912; Marvin Parrish in 1915; and Russell Ellington in 1917.

As was often the case in large families, Ruth became a surrogate mother to her younger siblings. She may have felt she lost her childhood, as evidenced by a conversation one of my cousins remembers being related to her by one of our relatives. Teen-aged Ruth stumbled upon her parents getting frisky, and told them to cut it out, because she wasn't going to raise any more of their children.

By 1920, Ruth was employed at the Brandon Stove Company (later The Brandon Company) as a stenographer. She was 17 years old, and with her father, provided the financial support for the family of nine in their home at 217 Dennison Street.

Until she married the owner of the Brandon Stove Company, Walter Nathan Brandon, Sr., in 1932, Ruth lived at home with her parents, contributing her income to the common good, including that of some of her teenaged and adult siblings.

But she did find some time for fun with her family...as we'll see in Part 2.

Part 3
Part 4