“The first of many standing ovations at the first BVSO concert of the season, Oct. 26, 2014, was most appropriately offered in appreciation for the announcement that Ruth Chandler Clearfield had been bestowed with Honorary Lifetime Membership, the BVSO’s highest honor. As Executive Director Mary Koeninger read a brief passage of the lovely full-page biography, listing just some of Ruth’s accomplishments and gifts for the BVSO since 1978, the capacity crowd that filled Rudder Theatre listened intently. The applause was loud, and long, for a woman whose listed litany of accomplishments still didn’t fully describe who she is and precisely what she has meant to keeping the BVSO alive and thriving in the Brazos Valley.”
Awaking this morning to seeing a Facebook instant message from a dear friend, who I’d asked to let me know when the final transition came, naturally I shed a few tears of sorrow, because the curtain had fallen on an era of a life devoted to volunteering, to making Bryan-College Station, the Brazos Valley as it’s often called, a better place to live. The week was beginning on an ending.
We’d been in touch regularly by e-mail throughout the last year of her illness, her preferred means of communication, as her days of strength and optimum times were unpredictable, and I liked having lasting memories of our chats committed to e-mail anyway. Looking back, I smiled about the word “exactly.” “Exactly one year ago today…” then I saw her words of this past July:
“On a happy note, since our both sons and I received our degrees from Ohio University we have established the Abraham, Ruth, Norman and Howard Clearfield Endowed Scholarship. We are going to Athens the week of August 10th…and we are looking forward to this very much. It’s exactly one year since Abe and I have done any traveling… so this, too, is something I am looking forward to…”
Exactly one year…again. Ruth lived to make that trip, and she had opportunities to be with more of the people who cherish her life.
Good works live on far beyond our time here, as do our memories of special people and what they mean to us, still. Ruth’s work is all around us in the Brazos Valley. Not all that many people are truly aware of what she did because she went to extreme lengths to obscure accolades for herself, because she was all about shining spotlights on others. That gave her great joy. You can spot her smiling in this favorite photo from an OPAS fundraiser.
Ruth touched countless lives in the communities where she lived, before the Brazos Valley as well as ours–arts, politics, civic activities, gourmet cooking, Weight Watchers, Texas A&M, Congregation Beth Shalom, and her neighborhood. Health for All was a special passion as she was determined to provide medical care for those whose jobs didn’t provide it for their employees. She was an ambassador for anything good going on here, and going through two decades plus of files, I see her name at the head or on the committee of innumerable fund raisers, many of which I was one among countless who served, because she personally invited us to participate. Our loss is so substantive, yet the gifts of lessons, love, and life she shared stay with us permanently, and thus we are so fortunate.
Recently I’d told her about the Chicago with Earth Wind & Fire concert I’d recently enjoyed and asked her what her favorite concert was of the past 10 years. Her answer? “I would have to say, without a doubt, that it was a PBS presentation of Itzhak Perlman playing Klezmer music, alone, and with other musicians. This is the kind of music I grew up with as a child – very nostalgic!” Here’s a link to aYouTube video I’m sure she’d enjoy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiB…
Ruth was a great advocate for PBS, undoubtedly. She and Abe contributed to KAMU-FM and KAMU-TV and reminded us often that the only reason they can stay on air is because we are here, and it was our duty to support them.
I first met Abe over 35 years ago, first as Dr. Clearfield, in the Department of Chemistry. I was entering graduate studies in the department and it was at the home of Bruno and Marge Zwolinski, my graduate professor, who were grand about hosting parties for the PChem division at a moment’s notice. In the Zwolinski home, I had a chance to see a collective of some of the most brilliant minds in chemistry in the world They had forgotten more in their lifetimes than I might ever hope to know.
Yet, in his gentle and unassuming way, Abe was so easy to talk to. He could speak with minds matching his at the highest level all the way down to new grad student, and make everyone feel comfortable. He proudly said, “I want you to meet my wife, Ruth. She is wonderful and she’s very involved in the community; she’s always looking for new volunteers.” Ruth and I had a great chat, and she equally praised Abe in return for all of his work in science. It was absolutely natural for them to speak of the other’s attributes with love, and it was so precious.
Later, Dean Clearfield was one of my immediate bosses in the College of Science, where he served as Associate Dean for many years. He ultimately returned to groundbreaking work in the field of zeolite chemistry, and again, Ruth was by his side every time he received one of many of his international honorary doctorates for his incredible contributions to the field.
Conversely, wherever Ruth was in volunteering, Abe was nearby, smiling, eyes shining with pride, beaming with love for his bride. Among favorite memories was spotting them sitting together at OPAS and BVSO concerts. Without thinking, they’d reach out for the other’s hand to hold as they enjoyed the music. For the almost 30 years I’ve known them, it has always been such a joy to be around them.
As much as they cherished each other, they were equally devoted to their sons, Norman and Howard, and their families. Ruth adored her sons and she loved being a grandparent. She loved people, life, and everything she did, without complaining, one of her greatest attributes.
I imagine that collectively our community is reflecting on Ruth’s life, remembering our personal interactions with her, the happiest of days, her brightest of impacts that she made, and we are now beaming, because we remember her with joy and love. We are all so very lucky that she was here. Exactly.
The photo above is from the standing ovation Ruth received from the Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra…exactly one year ago today. The kind of welcome I imagine she received entering Heaven this morning, just as she deserved. Exactly.
-Dawn Lee Wakefield