Medical 06

Ruth (Saarinen) Harrington

September 10, 1923 ~ November 7, 2019 (age 96)

Tribute

Ruth S. Harrington was born to Lauri and Lydia Saarinen on September 10, 1923 in Worcester, Massachusetts.  As a child, Ruth lived in Lindenhurst and Rockville Center on Long Island and then moved to South Killingly, Connecticut where they settled down – and where Ruth attended a one room schoolhouse for 4th and 5th grades. Ruth graduated from Killingly High School in Danielson, Connecticut in 1941. She went on to study nursing and graduated as a Registered Nurse from the Rhode Island College School of Nursing.

She was married to the late Col. George F. Harrington, USAF Ret., on June 7th, 1947, after George had graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on June 3rd, 1947. She is survived by her loving children Joanne; George and partner Liz; and Julie; and grandchildren, Haley and Shane Madkour.  She is also survived by numerous caring nieces and nephews in Connecticut, and devoted cousins and family in Finland.  

Ruth and George lived a happy military life; moving to new bases, the Pentagon, attending Harvard Business School and the Armed Forces Staff College, overseas tours to Germany twice and France for four years at SHAPE (living in Villennes Sur Seine). After George retired from the Air Force in 1977, he joined Beech Aircraft as Vice President of International Marketing, and the second chapter of their lives began in Wichita, Kansas.  Ruth loved her time in Wichita, serving as a docent for the Wichita Art Museum. 

In addition to living in Europe, they traveled extensively to Australia, South Africa, Finland, China, Russia, Philippines, among many other countries. She also spent many cherished days at their condo at Bethany Beach, Del. and at their “Last Resort” in Little Washington, Va., and enjoyed spending time with her grandchildren. Ruth never met a stranger; she always made everyone feel comfortable and appreciated, whether in person or through her beautifully expressive cards and letters. Memorial services will be held on Friday, December 6, 2019, at 3:00 pm at Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home, 1500 W Braddock Rd., Alexandria, VA. 22302. Ruth will be buried, with her late husband George, at Arlington National Cemetery in year 2020.  In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to a charity of one’s choice.

 

 

The secret to a long and happy life: RED SNEAKERS AND SERENDIPITY
Text by Minna Juti on the 20th of Abril 2015 in Washington D.C.


A few weeks ago, I told a friend of mine that I wanted to free myself from my usual routines. I 
feel like I’ve only just managed to empty my brain. How did I do it?

1. For the first time in thirty years, I don’t have a fixed job.

2. I went to California, got jet lag, immediately got sick, lost my voice and was prescribed a 
enough medicine to treat a horse. The doctor warned me that the little yellow pills would remove 
the mucus, but make me feel anxious. I also visited my child for the first time as a guest. I felt 
too awkward to even look into the kitchen cupboards.


3. I went back to Finland, but my voice didn’t come with me. I felt stressed because I’d be going 
back to America in two weeks.

4. My voice still hadn’t come back by the time I boarded the plane to Washington, croaking. I had 
to catch a bus and a train at Heathrow, running in between. I caught the connecting flight just as 
I heard the last call for Mrs ‘Tsuti’.

5. At Dulles airport in Washington DC, I was met by my grandfather’s cousin, my 91NyearNold great 
aunt Ruth, and her son, George Jr. I had never met the latter before, and I had met the former only 
twice: once at age six, and again at thirtyNsix. Ruth’s parents moved to America from Finland in 
the 1910s. For years, I had thought that someone should write their story. Now I would do it.

What was life like for a stonemason’s family living in Mouhijärvi in 1911? By all accounts, 
impoverished. Six children had been born, four had survived. Each one had had to find work in the 
village or around Häme area to earn money or food. 18NyearNold Martti had done a few years at 
school and been working since he was a little boy. He feared that he would be enlisted into the 
Russian army.

His big sister, Fanny, had gone to America a few months prior to find work. Martti decided to 
follow her. He was a ‘rascal’, as he would write in a letter to my grandfather fortyNone years 
later. This did not amuse Fanny, who had found work in New York as a waitress. He didn’t get any 
help from his sister, unlike their little sister Lyydi, who would come to New York five years later 
as a seventeen year old.

In Finland, the political situation was intensifying. The siblings’ uncle was shot after a Finnish 
civil war as a red prisoner in Hämeenlinna in summer 1918. Their mother died in August the same 
year.

In New York, Lyydi met Lauri from Tampere. They got married and had a son, who died when he was a 
few months old. Ruth was born in 1923.

Ruth is wearing a dark blue pantsuit, a red handbag and red patent sneakers. There is a red and 
blue stripe on the collar of her white shirt. She slides blue sunglasses on as she drives her old, 
white Subaru out of the parking lot of her apartment building. The car has a couple of dents and 
its bumpers are scratched. “I give myself a grade N A, B, C or D N every time I park,” Ruth laughs 
as she gets out of the car to manually open her wing mirrors. There’s no button.

It’s the first morning of my visit, and we start our day at Arlington National Cemetery. I am 
embarrassed that I don’t offer to drive, but the 91NyearNold has already stripped me of my weapons. 
As if she would ever let me drive N she was the one who knew the roads!

By the end of the day I am even more admiring of her. At the cemetery we go on a long walk. We 
visit her husband’s grave; he had died five years previously. We watch the changing of the guard at 
the tomb of the unknown soldier and even find the energy to visit the JFK Eternal Flame, because 
every avid Vogue reader knows who should go to visit Jacqueline’s final resting place. Aunt Ruth 
gets Vogue


every month.

Afterward, Ruth drives us to her favorite diner, where we eat crab sandwiches. Our server, who is 
initially supercilious, warms up to her quickly. As we are leaving, a man compliments Ruth’s

sneakers, and we have no chance to leave before he’s telling us about his own shoe collection. The 
poor man’s feet had grown so much he’d had to give up 37 pairs of shoes!

To round off the day, we stop to do some shopping. Ruth buys two skirts and helps me pick out a 
pair of jeans.

The next day Ruth wears a brown skirt with white polka dots, a white blouse, and twoNtone brogues. 
Her sunglasses, of course, are brown. We see some art at the National Gallery of Art. We are 
standing at The Mall when a young woman stops next to Ruth on her bike and tells her: “You have the 
most rocking shoes in this town.” Ruth smiles for a moment, bemused, not immediately understanding 
what the young woman meant by ‘rocking’. I help out and interpret. Blushing with delight, Ruth 
easily responds with a compliment of her own for the young woman.

I don’t think that the editorNinNchief of Vogue, Anna Wintour, could be anywhere near as lovely as 
Ruth, but Ruth is a big fan. Some time ago, she sent me a Vogue article about another person she 
admires: the CEO of Yahoo, Marissa Mayer, who happens to have Finnish roots. On my first night in 
Washington, Ruth gives me the latest copy of Vanity Fair, recommending an article about 46N 
yearNold Mellody Hobson. The daughter of a poor single mother from Chicago, she is now an 
investment guru and married a man thirty years her senior, the film director George Lucas.

Aunt Ruth also subscribes to Vanity Fair, National Geographic and the Washington Post. In the
morning, she does the crossword and reads the news while watching old British TV shows or the arts 
channel. She knows about all the latest films and was asking me just this morning about Finnish 
Formula 1 drivers and a Finnish tennis player Jarkko Nieminen. Almost needless to say, Ruth loves 
classical music, driving herself to concerts across the city, and actively follows Washington’s 
cultural scene.

She reads her emails in the afternoon, unless she’s out in town or having lunch with her 
girlfriends. It appears her friends enjoy videos about culture and nature, which they like sending 
to each other.

When she’s enthusiastic about something, Aunt Ruth’s excitement is like a little girl’s. She 
describes events and laughs at all things witty with her eyes shining. I have never heard her say a 
negative word about ageing, even though she can no longer hear as well as she used to and can’t 
fully lift her right arm.

Serendipity is an important concept to my aunt. She believes that it is the basis for a happy life. 
She taught me this word at the cemetery in Arlington, when we serendipitously met a nice gardener 
who shared his expertise about the cemetery’s blossoming trees with us.

I have been at Ruth’s for five days now. In the evening, we sit at her kitchen table, surrounded by 
floral patterns, flowers and good art on the walls. Ruth makes us whiskey sours or gin and tonics. 
Every night we say that we’ll go to bed early, but every time we’ve been up past midnight as Ruth 
shares her endless stories.

And I don’t tire of listening. My newly empty brain has started thinking about new, more important 
things: what is the secret to a long and happy life? Could it be the right outlook and serendipity?


Services

A Celebration of Life
Friday
December 6, 2019

3:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home
1500 West Braddock Road
Alexandria, VA 22302

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