ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Even before she utters a word, her smile says it all.
Ruth Frye has one of those smiles that tell you she is glad you’re there, that you are among friends. It embraces you like a warm hug, no matter who you are.
“Her smile has always been her trademark,” daughter Nancy Frye Weaver said. “It is what keeps her in touch with the world, what connects her to people. It tells people she understands and loves them.”
Those who love Frye have much to smile about, too. On Wednesday, she turned 100.
It has been, so far, a life of extraordinary dedication, grace and intention, her family said. A life not of high acclaim, but of always striving to take the high road.
“She always told her kids and grandkids every time they left the house, ‘Be always kind and good,'” Weaver said. “She would also say, ‘It’s what’s on the inside that counts.'”
That Frye has lived so long and so well is something worth celebrating – and someone worth learning from.
When the book of Ruth is written, it will begin on that sunny Sept. 2, 1920, when Grace and Herbert Heimann welcomed their smiling baby girl into the world by way of Akron, Ohio – the same year a candy bar named Baby Ruth, no relation, hit the markets.
From the beginning, she was a happy child raised in a home filled with music and books and the often-repeated lesson of seeking silver linings no matter how dark the horizon.
As a child, she was an accomplished gymnast, acrobat and dancer. She played piano. She read voraciously, kept a journal, dabbled in poetry.
In college, she studied business. She married fellow University of Akron student Gene Frye in 1942, and in their 73 years of marriage they created a life built on staying active, interested, humble, happy and in love.
They raised three daughters and a son, moving their brood to Albuquerque in 1954 for Gene’s work at Sandia National Laboratories.
Her children shared memories of a mother who began each day with a smile, a regimen of exercise, a healthy family breakfast and the panache to dress impeccably even when she had nothing planned – which was rare.
“The family learned by example to get up, get dressed, get ready and go pursue dreams,” Weaver said. “She gave us a sense of confidence to try for the next thing, taught us not to fear failure, because success isn’t being best, it’s being real and continuing to learn.”
She helped others pursue their dreams, too, no matter how beyond reach they seemed. She encouraged her husband’s love of sailing in landlocked New Mexico, for example, never questioning the logic of his building two 20-foot sailboats in the garage, always arranging regular outings to Elephant Butte, leading the family in song along the way.
“She is a woman of action and few words, and those words are kind,” Weaver said. “She is always ready for the next adventure, and by ready that means having herself and things ready to go.”
She also wanted other children to be ready education-wise, helping to start the first kindergarten in Talmadge, Ohio, and the first library at Mark Twain Elementary School in Albuquerque.
For years, she also served as board member and investment manager for New Mexico Boys and Girls Ranch.
Family members say she also cooked for those in need, joined many charitable causes, went to church, participated in a weekly quilting circle for years until arthritis in her hands wouldn’t let her continue.
In journals, family members say she wrote about her desire to be good and to inhabit her space well. Five years ago when she was asked what the secret to a long and happy life is, she said it was simply love – of her God, her friends and family and what comes next.
“She sees how to live life in the most ethical and loving way and she does that, doesn’t talk about it, just does it,” Weaver said. “By observation, it appears she has had a lifelong strong faith in God that leads her to put others first, without a thought of being noticed or getting credit. All her thought is to those she loves.”
The years have passed, and these days the words don’t come as easily to Frye anymore. She lives now in a small assisted living home in the Northeast Heights, where last year she regaled friends and family with her piano playing.
This year, because of COVID-19, there was no piano. Visits with family members remain restricted. Her birthday party was not an elaborate event like all the fanciful parties she threw in years gone by.
Instead, some of the local family members – which these days include 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, all across the country – gathered outside her window, waved and spoke to her by cellphone. Her special silver lining was seeing the joy in the faces of great-grandsons Nathan, 4, and Patrick, nearly 2. They are the next generation who are learning, just as her mother taught her, just as she taught her children, just as they taught their children, to be always kind and good.
For her, there was no need for many words. Just her smile.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, email@example.com, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.