by Ellen C. Warren and Phoenix Blazing, Photo of Ruth O’Malley by Anna Maria Contreras
Ruth Maria O’Malley. That was always her name. She was Joey’s mom, foster mom to Laura, Rosena, Bruce, friend to untold numbers, sister, aunt, niece, daughter, muse. Some of us called her Phoophie, others Ruthie, a few Ruth. In Brazil, where her mom lives and her son was conceived, her name was pronounced Hootchie. Hootchie Maria. We all loved that.
It’s a pretty sure thing that if you met Ruthie you remembered. Her kindness and generosity were legendary. She wanted you to be comfortable. She wanted you to feel special. Whatever you did, she made you feel good about it. You were the best! It was all about you, never about her.
And she was so, so funny. Spontaneously hilarious. Ruthie could fall into a character from out of the blue and play it to perfection. She would contort her face, sometimes her whole body, step into the required accent and have everybody rolling on the floor in fits of laughter.
Ah Phoophie, how could you leave? We love you so much. The world still needed you. What can we do? This is like the bad dream no one ever thought possible. It is wrong. Wrong to lose you. Wrong for you to lose us. The unthinkable has happened and it hurts too much to bear.
Where does one start in memorializing such a unique and wonderful human being? Where does one end? Who loved her more? The dogs and cats she would wrap in blankets to make cozy (her favorite way for herself and everyone else to be) who strategized how to get the closest to her? The birds, squirrels, opossums, raccoons she fed in her little Phoophie-planted Eden of a yard? The musicians and other creative companions who came to play some music, eat a “nosh,” drink a beer or a Brazilian cocktail?
In recent years, Ruthie made a little money cleaning for people she loved. (I know, because I heard her talk about them.) Just as she did at home, she sang while she cleaned. In her lovingly animated world she touched things softly with her hands and her beautiful voice.
Growing up with a professional pianist for a mother it is not surprising how gifted she was musically. Her world flowed along with music. She had her favorite radio shows (somebody is going to be wondering what happened to that “Brazilian lady” who was forever calling in) that she rarely missed. Her song-writing began when she was young, in company with a finger-style of guitar play.
We were blessed to have her performing with Lee and me in Ruby Red, our fun girl group. Before that she exposed her talents in RED Trio with Des and me. Over the years she had performed occasionally for the Riverwest Follies and, stirringly, at the funerals of loved ones. Ruthie’s life force drove our practices. She was a joy to create with, musically, harmonically, playfully, skillfully.
A little story was told at her bedside, of how, when she was younger, she couldn’t sing in front of an audience, so she turned her face to the wall and sang. I never realized how far she’d come in our performances together.
The dark-haired beauty who was Ruth O’Malley was a classic combination of her mother’s Brazilian and her father’s Irish heritages. It didn’t take much for anyone who knew her very well to see how perfectly fitting it was that she descended from the most famous female pirate in the world, Grace O’Malley. Ruthie’s blend of fierceness (don’t mess with anyone she loves), independence, and resourcefulness would have been quite at home on the high seas.
Writing was another of her passions. Her bent was toward sci-fi and fantasy. Alternate worlds, dark scenarios, scary plots exposed a shadow side of her that few were aware existed. Her son, an animator, was collaborating with her on a project. She was also a fine poet.
Ruthie loved to feed people. All her family and friends relished her fabulous culinary treats. She had worked in a kitchen for many years of her life, but nowhere did her cooking shine like in her own. Her traditions were very important to her. This year was the first without her cooking up a giant pot of corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day. That was a red flag, but no one, NO ONE, knew that we would be losing her twelve days later.
The shock of Ruthie’s death stopped us dead in our tracks. It was so unbelievable that life became surreal. How do you incorporate a reality that goes so counter to…to… everything.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, she was my best friend and as my eyes well with still unbelieving tears, I can tell you that I will never be the same. I will miss her all my life.
And I am most certainly not alone for as much as I loved her there are many others who also loved her massively, deeply, thoroughly, joyfully.
She was such a gift to the world. She brought so much joy. She cared so much. We are so incredibly lucky to have had the chance to breathe in the love that Ruthie carried around her. We are so so blessed to have known her.
Thank you, Iemanja.
Over the course of a lifetime, I have been blessed to meet rare individuals whose capacity for life and free self-expression knew no bounds. Ruthie, aka Phoophie, was one of those people. Her openness and love transformed the lives of those around her.
I often have thought of her as a biologist would a beaver: a “keystone” species, or one whose mere existence creates entire ecosystems. Ruthie brought together an amazing diversity of people, pets, artists, writers, musicians, free-thinkers, non-free thinkers together under an umbrella of love and acceptance.
Thanks to the open atmosphere Ruthie fostered, I was able to get over my fears and become a drummer. For my entire life I had sporadically attempted hand-drumming only to be inhibited by my own self-consciousness, my inner critic. But something amazing happened in Phoophie’s house. Here I was sitting among a motley crew of musicians and wanna-be musicians, and Ruthie is prodding me to pick up the congos. When you saw Ruthie’s smile, there was no way of denying her request. As my hands began to acquaint myself with the rhythm, I found myself becoming a part of this larger organism that was radiating love and simple good vibes. Gradually, the rhythms found themselves in my hands and my world became larger.
Life is never perfect. There will at times be obstacles to our passions and desires, and sometimes we will never be able to fulfill our dreams. Yet, Ruthie helped make my life seem perfect to me. And in her death, I am transformed again. Her essence has infused my soul. If there’s such a thing as a soul or not, all I can say now is that I feel it. Thank you, Phoophie, wish you were, my Water Tiger sistah.