Ruby Ellen McMullan Burrow, age 100, passed away on March 17, 2018 at Shands Hospital in Gainesville Florida after bearing a one month burden of the effects of a stroke incurred on February 16, along with a simultaneous rapid increase of congestive heart failure.
Ruby was born in the family home, on a farm located outside Decatur, Newton County Mississippi on September 19, 1917. It was a different world from what we live in today. Carbide lighting, well water with a hand pump, churning butter, wood burning iron stove, and the outhouse (when it was working), all were part of her upbringing. She recalled being taken to school on horseback, the day they got the first radio in the area, and the constant hard work that her mother had to do in order to raise six farm kids.
With absolutely no fondness, she also remembered picking cotton. Her father felt farm kids ought to do farm work, so from an early age, in addition to all the other farm duties, Ruby and her siblings picked cotton. The sharecroppers had their sections and the children their own. Ruby would tell you how the spurs on the cotton burrs were sharp and would tear the cuticles of the fingers, making her hands sore.
But the kids grew up healthy and strong. The depression didn’t hurt them. They grew or raised 95% of what they ate and there was always a market for farm products. Ruby was known as the snake killer. She would chop them up with a hoe.
On May 28, 1937, Ruby graduated from Newton County Agricultural High School. Sometime after that, Ruby and her sister Lois, got jobs at a shirt factory in the neighboring town of Union. Soon, the sisters saved enough money, and bought a car. Eventually Ruby became a floor supervisor and was in charge as she put it, “of 30 women and one man.”
However, the world was changing; it was at war, and new opportunities abounded. Ruby saw this and decided to take advantage of the change. She told her sister Lois, and they quit the factory and enrolled in the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training Program administered by Mississippi State College, and in July 1943 completed 234 hours of training in Mechanical Drawing I and II. Their instructor, Mr. G. P. Helms, told them “Girls, I’m going to get you a job with the Government.” Ruby was forever grateful to Mr. Helms for his patient instruction and guidance through the hiring process. She felt he changed their lives.
So, in August 1943, Ruby and Lois rode an un-air-conditioned bus to Washington D.C. and assumed their positions as Junior Engineering Draftsmen with the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior. The sisters were less than prepared for city life. They didn’t’ realize that you had to pay to ride a city bus, and they didn’t know how to use a pay phone, but they were in instant hit wherever they went and at work were called the “Mississippi Girls.”
What adventures they had! They met good people; they met bad people. They dated for the first time, because at home, their dad didn’t let them. They became map makers or cartographers, and worked on top secret projects such as the Normandy invasion. They did crazy things, such as taking two week vacations so they could go to big cities and get hired as waitresses only to tell the managers, “Well, we’ve got to go back to our Federal jobs.”
The owner of Bickford’s Restaurant drove them around Manhattan all night long, showing them the sites of the city. He said, “I knew you two girls weren’t ‘gonna stay.”
In 1946, her future husband Bill showed up at Geological Survey. He had learned the trade in the Army, but as a new hire, started out junior to her. Bill knew right away that this was the girl for him and began courting her. You could say that the courtship became official when she didn’t object to a stolen kiss in the photo dark room.
On February 28, 1948, Bill and Ruby married. She paid for their first car, as she made more than him. They settled into life together, living in Washington D. C. In 1953, she became pregnant. In October 1953, she turned in her resignation letter to the U. S. Navy Hydrographic office where they were then both working. She wanted to raise a family and never had any regrets about her decision. Her paperwork says that she retired as a Cartographic Photogrammetric Aid and under future position; it states “Housewife!”
In 1954, their son Richard was born. No one ever loved a child more. A couple of years later, they lost a baby and she was unable to have further children. For the rest of her life, thinking about this always made her sad.
In 1957, the family moved to Oxon Hill, in Prince Georges County Maryland and bought a nice new home that came complete with Carport! There, Ruby raised her son, and became friendly with all the neighbors and their children. Neighbor kids loved to come over, not just to play with Richard, but also to be around her.
In 1972, Bill retired from the Federal Government. He wanted to move to Florida. Ruby was skeptical about this, but ultimately agreed. She was certain it was a mistake when the very day they arrived in Florida, there was a huge rainfall. Upon reaching the house in Gainesville, they discovered that the entire back yard was a lake. “Bill, you’ve bought a house in a swamp,” she said! There was nothing Bill could say (though he tried), because the evidence was clear. But you know what; it never happened again.
They settled into a comfortable life in Gainesville in a home that; you guessed it, had a carport. Their son thought that only rich people had garages. They both ended up enjoying Florida and living in Gainesville.
They were election poll workers for many years, and long term members of Grace Baptist Church, where they were on the Baptism and visitation committees, and helped in other ways as well. They went on a couple of cruises, numerous senior citizen bus trips to interesting places, and one big trip to Europe. They were blessed by living long enough to know and enjoy their grandchildren.
As they got older, things became more difficult for them, but they both managed to limit their activities, in a manner that allowed them effectively to cope with daily life. By these methods, they were able to continue living in their house by themselves, longer than might have been expected.
In early 2013, Bill passed away. Ruby was able to remain in the home, with increasing use of home care for over four years. It was impressive to see her cope with her increasing physical limitations in a way that still enabled her to get around as much as she possibly could.
It wasn’t until July 2017, that it was necessary for her to permanently reside in a Nursing Home. Life was not pleasant for her at this point, but she gamely smiled for her son. All who knew her know that even before this point, she had been ready to go home to her Heavenly Father. Her body was failing her but her faith was absolute, so there was nothing to fear. Her only regret was making those who loved her sad.
When she passed, it was the quietest, calmest event you could imagine. She made that moment easier for us, but that is the kind of person she always was and is.
Ruby M. Burrow was preceded in death by her husband, William G. Burrow, father, Homer E. McMullan Sr,, her mother, Pearl P. Smith, her sister, Ruth M. Kee, brother Charles T. McMullan, brother Homer E. McMullan Jr., grandson Baby Ethan Burrow, and her own unborn child.
Survivors include son Richard G. Burrow, daughter in law Kelly S. Burrow, grandchildren Emily R. Passaro, Jason A. Burrow, and Daniel G. Burrow, all of Deltona. Also, she is survived by brother, Henry W. McMullan of Clear Spring Maryland and sister Lois M. Kline of Cape Coral Florida, plus numerous nieces, nephews and their children.
Services will be held at Grace Baptist Church, 7100 N.W. 39 Ave, Gainesville Florida on April 14, 2018, presided over by Pastor Jim Riley. Visitation will be at 11:00 am, Service at noon and lunch at the church to follow
The family would like to thank all of the Shands Hospital employees who cared for Ruby Burrow during her time at their facility. We would also like to thank everyone at Terrace Health and Rehab Center Nursing Home, and Home By Choice Home Care. All of you were great as could be. All of you did the best job possible, and were as gentle as could be. Arrangements are under the care of Forest Meadows Funeral Home, Gainesville, FL.