It’s been said that we don’t grow old simply by piling up the years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Time may wrinkle the skin, but lack of enthusiasm for life will wrinkle one’s spirit. Ruth Wooldridge, who celebrated 99 years last week, has her ideals intact and spreads enthusiasm to her family extending through five generations.
Born on Oct. 24, 1911, at Fighting Creek in Powhatan County, Wooldridge gained her ideals naturally; her father worked the land, and the Wooldridge children saw how hard he worked and how all the neighbors pitched in and helped each other at harvest time.
“My father worked at a saw mill and ran the farm, and his paycheck was $7 a week and that raised all of us children,” Wooldridge said. “Coffee was about 20 cents a pound or maybe 15 cents.”
Modern conveniences were nowhere to be found during Wooldridge’s childhood. She walked two-and-a-half miles both to and from school each day and, as one might guess, the school had only one room. At home, it was oil lamps for light, carrying water from a nearby spring and bathing outside.
“My mama died at a very early age, she was only 36 years old and that left eight of us.” Her aunt never had children, so she moved into the house and raised Wooldridge and her two brothers and five sisters. “She raised us all together, we weren’t separated ever; that’s why we had such a close and loving family.” The entire family had chores to do on the farm, “and if we didn’t do those chores, we wouldn’t get to do anything or go any place.”
She said her aunt was strict, but she was a good person; she made all their clothes and ran the household.
“We weren’t allowed to hang a piece of clothes on a line on Sunday,” she said. “We had better not. Friday we cleaned. Saturday we cooked. Sunday we went to church and came home and relaxed or visited family.”
When she was old enough to work in the city, Wooldridge moved to Richmond, finding work at American Tobacco Company. Eventually, she met her husband with whom she spent 52 years. “I was working at this little place on Hull Street called the Derby Inn and he would come in delivering blocks of ice.” His name was Horace Wooldridge; it was the mid 1930s by then; and the two moved to Chester and started raising a family.
“It was Richmond Street, right there in the hotel yard right across from the old railroad station,” said June Gay, Wooldridge’s eldest daughter who lives with her as her caretaker. “It was old Chester, we used to sit in the trees and smoke monkey cigars. If mama and daddy had known they would’ve killed us.”
“There were three or four cottages there, it was called the hotel yard. We had a nice garden and a yard,” Wooldridge said, speaking of the area that surrounded the old Chester Hotel. She would ride the streetcar to Petersburg to shop, pick up odd food items at House’s Food House (now Sibley’s BBQ), and drive north to Richmond to shop for groceries at the A&P.
After living on what is now considered historic property and named Chester Kiwanis Park, they left Chester in 1956 to live in south Richmond.
Wooldridge has led a very active life that she attributes that to her faith and clean living. She attends the Fellowship Baptist Church on Cogbill Road and she’s never smoked cigarettes or drank alcohol, which could be a good prescription for her longevity. Wooldridge takes only two pills a day “sometimes just one,” she said. Her cardiologist told her that he would take care of her until she was 100. “He retired two years ago,” she said, laughing.
“I’m very active. I’ve never been a person to sit down,” she said. Her granddaughter Brenda Dority added, “Yesterday I caught her out here raking leaves.”
She’s a devoted baseball fan, and she follows the Atlanta Braves religiously, although she’s rooting for the Giants to win the World Series. She’s also passionate about NASCAR. Jeff Gordon is her favorite driver. “He’s such a good person all around,” she said. “But my whole family are Earnhardt fans.”
Wooldridge is a delight to talk to and remembers her life and is happy to tell you all about it.
“My father bought one of the first T-model Fords that came out - $52,” Wooldridge said, remembering it like it was yesterday. “He went to see his girlfriend, there weren’t many cars on the road then, and he hit a horse and buggy and he parked it and never drove it again. So when he was at work, we’d drive it all around the field, all around the field and so that’s how I learned to drive.”
Of course, Wooldridge drives to this day. Her license doesn’t expire until 2012. She’s had only two encounters with the police in all the time she’s been driving. “While I was in Chester, in 1958, I got a ticket for driving without a license. I was so scared I called the courthouse and talked to the judge.” The judge told her to “come up here and get a license and that will be the end of that story, so I did.” There were no tests at the time, she just filled out a form and got her license.
Her brothers and sisters are now deceased. “God has a reason and maybe there was something he left me here to do. He has been good to me in my life,” she said. “I’ve never regretted one minute of my life and I’ve raised three children and they never gave me one bit of trouble”
Wooldridge has two daughters, June Gay and Barbara Badgett. Her son, Horace Wooldridge, Jr., is a guidance counselor at Cosby High School.