HARPSWELL — “Everyone has problems,” 75-year-old Ruth Perry says, “but most problems have the life span of a leaf. You just have to face up to them.”
This Bailey Island legend knows of what she speaks. Perry raised eight children almost alone because her husband, now deceased, favored his booze over his brood. She has seldom had more than two nickels to rub together, according to a friend, and today she gets by on Social Security.
But you’ll never hear Perry complain. What you will hear, from her friends and neighbors, is a constant refrain of praise: “Ruth is amazing. She’s always doing something for others.”
That “something” takes many forms. Space precludes a full listing, but here’s a start:
While she was bringing up her kids, she’d spend time with her ailing parents (father with Parkinson’s, mother with Alzheimer’s) to enable them to stay in their home.
After her parents died, she spent a few years preparing the evening meal at the house of her brother, who had Alzheimer’s (and a stroke).
In 2000, she spearheaded the first annual reunion for anyone who ever attended the Orr’s Island School, now closed, and she’s been the prime mover ever since.
Perry spends three days a week at the day-care center her daughter runs so that the kids will be comfortable with her if her daughter needs to run an errand.
For 10 years, she prepared complete Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for islanders in need at the Orr’s Island Methodist Church and, later, at the non-denominational Island Church on Bailey Island.
If you’re a member of the Island Church you know Perry because it could be argued she is the Church. She is the first to get there and the last to leave. She turns on the heat and the lights. She’ll shovel the walk if it needs shoveling. She sets up the communion table and sends out the newsletter. She sings in the choir and makes sure the hymnals are where they’re supposed to be. And she assists the Sunday school teachers by supplying background material.
Perry is also a member of Knit Wit, the Island Church knitting group.
“Last year I knit 120 chemo hats to give to hospitals,” she said, with some pride.
She is currently crocheting a nativity scene.
“I’ve finished three wise men and a shepherd so far,” she said, “but I still have to do Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the angles and the lambs.”
It’s safe to assume that Ruth Perry will complete that nativity scene, even though she’s doing it without any pattern to follow.
Others look at her busily at work and ask, “How do you do that?” Ruth just smiles, and says, “I just do it.”
For her whole life, Ruth Perry has been just doing it, while always being there for her family, for her friends and for the people of the Harpswell islands.
Ruth Perry’s many contributions help keep the Bailey Island Church and community strong.
Part of a twice-monthly series of profiles by Brunswick writer David Treadwell about people who quietly contribute to the quality of life in greater Portland. Do you know an Unsung Hero? Tell us: email@example.com