Virginia Catherine Ruth, who deciphered and encoded messages during World War II, prepared meals for prisoners from her Dundalk kitchen and cared for children removed from their parents’ custody, died July 31, 2019 of heart and lung failure. She was 95. (Family photo)
Virginia Catherine Ruth, who deciphered and encoded messages during World War II, prepared meals for prisoners from her Dundalk kitchen and cared for children removed from their parents’ custody, died July 31, 2019 of heart and lung failure. She was 95. (Family photo)

Virginia Catherine Ruth, who deciphered and encoded messages during World War II, prepared meals for prisoners from her Dundalk kitchen and cared for children removed from their parents’ custody, died Wednesday of heart and lung failure. She was 95 and a mother of five, grandmother to seven and great-grandmother to nine.

A daughter of silk mill workers Joshua and Nellie Birch, Mrs. Ruth grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains city of Buena Vista, Va., reared during the Great Depression to a family that lost their farm to taxes after the property’s house had burned down. She left school in ninth grade because her family could not afford to buy the books she needed for her studies.

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Her upbringing shaped Mrs. Ruth into a strong woman who supported others in any way she could, her daughter Catherine O’Neill said.

“She had a very poor childhood, but she was always taught to give back,” said Mrs. O’Neill of Jarrettsville. “She never actually complained about what she didn’t have. She always looked at what she had and was happy with that.”

When she was 18, the former Miss Birch married Donald Ruth Sr. of Edgemere after meeting him while visiting her sister in Baltimore. They were married until Mr. Ruth’s death in 1998.

In 1942, when her husband enlisted in the Navy during the second World War, Mrs. Ruth signed up for the Women’s Army Corps. After bootcamp at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, she was stationed at Virginia’s Fort Belvoir and served in the motor pool. She made the rank of corporal and obtained secret security clearance, allowing her to process communication coming into and out of Washington during the war.

After the war, the couple settled in Dundalk where Mr. Ruth became a Baltimore County Police officer assigned to Turner Station. Mrs. Ruth prepared daily meals for people incarcerated in the Dundalk police precinct, deploying her children to help assemble sandwiches.

“It was like a Blackjack dealer on the kitchen table with the bread and baloney and ham and whatever else,” Mrs. Ruth’s daughter Norma Jean Filleti of Dundalk said.

In an era that predated modern social services, Mrs. Filleti said her mother often welcomed children into their home through her husband’s work while police searched for a more permanent place for them to stay. Mrs. Ruth would give them a clean diaper, a meal, a cuddle on the sofa, whatever they needed to feel safe and cared for, her daughters said.

Mrs. Ruth went on to work at the harbor tunnel’s toll booths, where she got the nickname “Bumble Bee” for her work pace and got a kick out of telling people she handled other people’s money all day. She retired from that job as a sergeant in the early 1990s.

A talented seamstress, Mrs. Ruth spent her retirement enjoying family and gardening at her home of 67 years on Walnut Avenue in Dundalk with her rescue dog Akira by her side. Due to declining health, Mrs. Ruth spent her final years at Madonna Heritage Nursing Home in Jarrettsville.

“She had a wonderful green thumb,” her daughter Patricia Waldrop of New Braunfels, Texas, said. “She had the most beautiful flowers you’ve ever seen.”

Her daughters said their mother was independent and lived life on her terms, from the slacks she wore in the 1930s to the motor scooter she drove with her daughter from Baltimore to Buena Vista in the 1970s.

The last big family celebration the Ruths shared was Mrs. Ruth’s 95th birthday on April 15. They had a cake and surrounded their matriarch with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But Mrs. O’Neill said her mother refused to blow out the candles until she reversed the “9” and the “5,” trying to rewind the clock back 36 years.

A funeral service is planned for 9 a.m. Tuesday at Duda-Ruck Funeral Home at 7922 Wise Ave. in Dundalk. Visitation will be held at the funeral home from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday.

Interment will be in Oak Lawn Cemetery.

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Mrs. Ruth’s final request is that, instead of flowers, donations be made to the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation to further research into the movement disorder that affects one of her sons.

In addition to her daughters and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she is survived sons Donald F. Ruth Jr. of Dundalk and Bruce A. Ruth of Jessup.

Besides her parents, she was preceded in death by five siblings.

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