Ruth Finch Strachan, A true Renaissance woman who was ahead of her time but loved all things historic, Ruth("Ruthie") Finch Strachan died peacefully on July 27 at her home in Ipswich after a day spent working in her garden and swimming in the ocean. She was 86. Born on April 4, 1934, to Olive Amelia (Robinson) Finch and Lewis Turner Finch, Ruth grew up in Bloomfield, CT, as an only child. After graduating from Smith College with a bachelors degree in English, she got a job as a photographer at the Polaroid Corporation where she worked with scientist and inventor Dr. Edwin Land. It was there that she met her husband, Kenneth Strachan, of Gloucester. They settled in Marblehead, MA in 1958, where they enjoyed crewing sailboats in the summers and skiing with friends in Jackson, NH, in the winters. After having her two children, she began a life rich with volunteer work and a variety of jobs, including working as a draft designer for a dock company, researching and cataloging historic homes, and teaching SAT prep classes. It was while she was pushing a stroller and walking with her young children around Marblehead that she became interested in the history and architecture of the towns many pre-Revolutionary War homes and buildings. She was hired as a librarian at the Rhodes School in Marblehead, where she became a defacto STEM teacher before it became popularized. She worked with elementary school students to build a dinghy from scratch. They steamed, clamped, shaped the wood, and assembled the dinghy right in the library. They launched it in Marblehead Harbor, and the children took turns rowing it. At the Bell Elementary School, she built a geodesic dome to teach her young students about math and engineering. They later used it as a reading nook. Based on her deep knowledge of historic buildings, which was largely self-taught, she was appointed to the newly formed Marblehead Old and Historic Districts Commission (OHDC) and served from 1968-1974 and again from 1987-2000. For some of those years, she served as chair. A survey of historic buildings she undertook during this time was the basis for listing the Marblehead Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1999, the Board of Selectmen refused to accept her resignation letter, with the board chair assigned to help change her mind and another stating simply, "We dont want her to resign." As one friend wrote, "Ruth Strachans foresight and bravery saved Marbleheads historic core. As the leader of the OHDC in its first contentious days, she fought for preserving one of Americas best collections of lived-in historic houses. Without her vision, todays charming closely knit neighborhoods and historic homes would have been ruined. She may have incurred the wrath of some homeowners, but Marblehead owes its beauty and grace to her vigilance." In addition to continuing her volunteer work, she enrolled at Lesley University in Cambridge where she received a masters degree in social work and began working for the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, helping troubled families and children for the next 15 years. Among her friends she became known as "Dr. Ruth" for her practical advice and wisdom. If that wasnt enough, she took up windsurfing when there were still wooden booms and was the first person to receive the town approval to teach windsurfing from her one-person school on Riverhead Beach in Marblehead, which she did from 1980-1985. In 2005, she sold her beloved home on High Street in Marblehead to move to Ipswich to be closer to her grandchildren. She and her family built a small carriage house which was carefully crafted to fit in perfectly with the historic houses in the neighborhood. While in Ipswich, she started working as an independent contractor for the U.S. military helping military families affected by PTSD. She worked at military bases in the U.S and abroad, including Germany, Spain, Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, and Delaware. After she finally retired, she threw herself into volunteering for everything Ipswich had to offer. She served on both the Ipswich Historical Commission and the Architectural Preservation District Commission. She was a member of the Democratic Town Committee and a volunteer for the Essex County Greenbelt Association. She maintained the gardens at their headquarters in Essex for many years. She fiercely loved her two grandchildren, Camden and Tess, who lovingly called her "Uffie" as a play on her nickname "Ruthie." She was a regular at every horse show, lacrosse game, and school event, no matter how mundane, even through their time in college. She was the ultimate "cool" mom, even though her two children just wanted her to be "normal." She was a mentor to many and a brilliant conversationalist (or a steadfast debater, depending on your view). She was a friend to all who walked down Summer Street in Ipswich as she was tending her beloved garden, even if she had no idea who you were. She just loved to talk with people and put a smile on everyones face with her quick wit and endless knowledge. She leaves behind a legacy that is truly unmatched. She never stopped working to make the world a better and more interesting place, from pulling her children out of school to go to protests in Boston to teaching her grandchildren as much as they would let her. She lived an amazingly full life, and everyone who knew her appreciated how special she was. Ruth will be remembered with love and missed by many. In addition to her grandchildren, Camden A. Murray and Tess L. Murray, she leaves her two children, Andrew F. Strachan and M. Elizabeth L. Murray, her daughter-in-law, Jillian (Sada Bahar) Rennie, and her son-in-law, Christopher J. Murray. She was predeceased by her husband, Kenneth Everett Strachan. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be announced soon. Assisting the family is the Morris Funeral Home of Ipswich. To send a letter of condolence to Ruths family please go to: MorrisFH.com
Published by The Marblehead Reporter from Aug. 3 to Aug. 13, 2020.