Gordon Harris and Ruth StrachanPeople

Ruth Strachan

Featured image: Gordon Harris and Ruth Strachan, photo courtesy of the Ipswich Local News, 2017.

It was with great sadness that we learned today about the sudden passing of Ruth Strachan, a member of the Ipswich Historical Commission and the Architectural Preservation District Commission for several years. I met Ruth seven years ago as I strolled along Summer Street where she was tending her flowers. We immediately fell into a conversation about historic houses.

I later learned that a survey of historic buildings undertaken in 1978 by Ruth was the basis for listing the Marblehead Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1999, the Marblehead Board of Selectman refused to accept her resignation letter as Chairwoman of the Old and Historic Districts Commission and assigned the Chair to persuade Ruth to stay. She eventually moved to Ipswich to live closer to her family.

When I asked Ruth if she would consider joining the Ipswich Historical Commission, she agreed to do so, but after spending two decades on the Marblehead Commission, she preferred to remain an alternate member on ours. Sometimes it seemed like every house, board and window was historic to Ruth, and sometimes when we allowed a demolition request to go forward, hers was the lone dissenting voice. Even when we came to different conclusions, her friendship and mentoring was very special to me. Ruth will be truly missed. —Gordon Harris

Comment from Peter Bubriski:

“Every town should be so lucky to have a Ruth Strachan. Delighted by the historic artifacts of the buildings around her, intrigued by the characters who built them , knowledgeable about EVERY aspect of historic preservation from her voracious reading, passionately devoted to meeting new people, unstintingly warm and humorous, and fierce in her advocacy for things she believed in–Ruth was delightful, charming and a pistol! The more one got to know her the more one learned of the extraordinary breadth of her experience.

Early in her career she worked at Polaroid for Edwin Land, she counseled returning Iraq war vets with PTSD as a licensed social worker, she taught windsurfing to the adventurous in Marblehead, she gardened with a skill and knowledge that put many of us garden aficionados to shame, and she raised a beautiful family.
Ruth was also the perpetual student; there was never anything that she wasn’t game to learn more about. In her inimitable way, she was a joyous, critical, generous and shining force of nature. I miss her deeply.”  —Peter Bubriski

Ruth Strachan obituary

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  1. Here is the conclusion of a longer note I sent to Ruth’s daughter, Elizabeth, and the other members of her family’

    Ed Traverso

    … I shall miss her much. We became new and dear, good friends at a time in life when such relationships don’t usually happen. It happened with us, I think, because we shared a lot of interests, values, likes and dislikes.

    And we loved to talk. And did we ever talk. Every movie, concert, political issue was grist for our mill.

    Ruth was a feisty lady. She stood her ground and then some telling me in no uncertain terms to be quiet and to listen to what she was saying. She hated frauds and all types of baloney artists and had a superbly tuned crap detector that she used to deflate all manner of fakery

    She was taken from us all too soon- from her family that she loved so much that even when she was critical she could not hide her love and pride; from her community that she served so loyally in so many ways; and, from her affectionate and grateful friend, Ed, who will always remember what she did for him. The memory of that lively lady, whose perky smile was framed by the perfect parentheses of her hair, will remain in his heart always.

  2. Truly Ruth Strachan was one of the great treasures of Ipswich. That she had any preservation-love left over for her adopted hometown of Ipswich after all she did to make Marblehead the wonder that it is is cause enough for our enduring civic gratitude. She managed to be both fierce and generous at the same time. Her indelible presence on Summer Street, tending that little garden of hers, will be, for so many of us who chatted with her there, about anything and everything, as sacred a historic site as any old house. She was first, period.

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