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Ruth C. Mullaney auxiliary illustration
Lived most of her life in Virginia

A Tribute to Ruth C. Mullaney, 1930 - 2017

Ruth C. Mullaney is a special lady; I am proud to say she is my mom. In the following paragraphs, I intend to convey a portion of the tribute I know she deserves. The character traits that are most on my heart today relate to her generosity, her respect, and her strength. These three attributes combine in her life and reach out to bless the lives of others, including mine.

Generosity is evident in the choices she has made for her family, in the time she invests in the community and in the abundant way she provides for each of her loved ones. Mom chose to focus on the nurture and care of my sisters and me rather than pursue employment outside the home; she was always available to me. Her impact on the community includes our schools, Girl Scouts, Head Start, the Fish Pantry, the American Field Service - just to name a few; her vision of a better community is matched by her commitment to give of herself all the time. When it comes to birthday gifts, Christmas gifts, or "just because" gifts, she holds the title "La Noela" (which roughly translates as "Mrs. Claus"); Mom is always on the lookout for items that will mean a lot to the recipient.

Respect is shown to the environment, to people groups and to individuals. Mom not only always told us to leave a place better than you found it, but she is also driven to finding practical ways to make that happen, even as she walks from here to there. Her standards for such care extend to countries around the world through agencies such as UNICEF and the Organization of American States. Everyday as I left for school, Mom reminded me of the importance of respect for others and for myself; she would tell me to make my teachers glad I was there, to think for myself, or to "be alert because the world needs more 'lerts". She showed and told me that she loved me.

Strength manifests itself through Mom in subtle but consistent ways. She stands up for her beliefs and defends those in need. She cares for her yard, her garden and the trees around her home; much of this work requires physical endurance and power. She enjoys the long road, literally and metaphorically. Allow Mom a steady pace across a gentle terrain, and she is glad to go a long way. She faces changes in life that are very hard to bear with courage, and she finds the next step. She keeps in touch with people by calling, by writing and by picking up her luggage and traveling thousands of miles.

Lyrics that capture the essence of Ruth Mullaney are that she would "brighten the corner where you are." This has really been the cornerstone of her impact on my life and on those around me. I am glad to recognize this heritage that I pass along to my children; I look forward to them carrying forth the tradition of generosity, respect and strength exhibited by Farmor, their father's mother.

I love you, Mom. Your son,
David (2004, reaffirmed 29-NOV-2017)

Content written by David Mullaney (August 2004), reachable at


Ruth Carlson Mullaney died November 29, 2017, in hospice care at her daughter's home in Manassas,Virginia, her daughter Martha holding her hand. Born on November 12, 1930, in New York, NY, to Elizabeth Platt Carlson and Rolland Douglas Carlson, Ruth grew up in Queens. She had two younger sisters, Joyce Carlson Leavitt of Albuquerque, NM, and Nancy Doub, deceased in 2009.

As a teenager she was a sports enthusiast, playing softball and tennis and winning awards in table tennis. After graduating from Jamaica High School, Ruth studied psychology at Wellesley College, graduating in 1952. She married her high school sweetheart, John Mullaney, on September 7, 1952. His medical education, residency, internship, and service in the Army took them to Michigan, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Texas, and New York in quick succession until they settled in Williamsburg in 1963. Wherever they went, she lived by the mantra to "brighten the corner where you are."

Ruth taught kindergarten for one year before retiring from paid employment to devote herself to full time mothering and being an active member of the communities where she lived. She planted gardens even when she knew she would soon be leaving a place. She was for many years active in Girl Scouts, both as a troop leader and as a local organizer. She was on the PTA throughout her children's school years. Her son recalls seeing her featured in the newspaper for her involvement in the launch of the Lunar Lander at Rawls Byrd Elementary School (bringing the space age into the minds of these school children on their playground) and the Kidsburg playground (for her grandchildren's generation).

She hosted singers from Up With People when they came to Williamsburg. She valued Church Women United for its ecumenical spirit of bringing women from different traditions together. She volunteered at the FISH food pantry for many years.

She celebrated life's events with gusto. She decorated for holidays, bringing out her collection of nativity scenes from all over the world every Christmas. She made special Halloween costumes for her children every year when they were growing up and an occasional spooky tunnel for the neighborhood. She decorated birthday cakes with elaborate scenes. She lavished gifts on her children and grandchildren and sent greeting cards for all occasions.

She loved parades and marching bands. She sang; as John James Audubon said, "The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang the best;" the world is better because she kept the music coming. She was glad to find that handbells were an instrument she could play. She attended community arts fairs and local theater.

She was part of Bruton Parish Church throughout her years in Williamsburg. She was a member of the Young Adult Fellowship at the church until the members realized the name of their group no longer fit them and changed it to the Adult Fellowship. In later years, the Singles group was an important source of friendship, social support, and recreation for her. She was a lively debater in Sunday school classes. One priest dubbed her "the resident radical". One of her proudest accomplishments at church was getting the rules changed so that girls could be acolytes.

She engaged in politics as an active citizen, keeping herself and others informed through the League of Women Voters, valuing the Great Decisions lectures on international affairs, supporting presidential candidates from Adlai Stevenson to Hillary Clinton. She supported Cesar Chavez through the grape boycott. She was actively involved in the public schools as an interested parent volunteer in her children's classrooms and, when necessary, as a goad to the school board ("Why a decade after Brown vs. the Board of Education are these schools still segregated?!" she repeatedly demanded.)

She always had a love for the peoples and cultures of the world. When her children were growing, she expressed this love to them through books and songs and local opportunities, programs, and people. International friendship was always a strong component of the Girl Scout troops she led. She shared her father's love for the Spanish language. She was a strong supporter of the AFS program, bringing international students to the local high school, helping to run the program and promoting it in the community. She hosted AFS students in her home -- students from Costa Rica and Ecuador for brief stays and Gerardo Rodriguez from Uruguay for an entire year. She also welcomed the occasional foreign travelers her husband brought home from the Greyhound buses he rode on his commute to work in Richmond.

When her children were adults, she was able to travel to other countries with them, visiting Elizabeth in Germany, Switzerland, France, England, and Scotland, traveling with David through Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Costa Rica, and Peru, accompanying Kristin to Italy, France, Spain, and England, and taking Martha as her traveling companion to many of these places plus Mexico and Jamaica. She took all of her children and grandchildren on a family reunion cruise through Canada to Alaska. She served others through Faith in Action for as long as she was able, and she appreciated their service to her when she could no longer drive.

Her husband John died December 21, 1992, three months after celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. Ruth is survived by her sister Joyce, her four children, Kristin (David Ertz) Mullaney of Philadelphia, PA, Elizabeth (David) Nicol of Urbana, IL, Martha (Bob) Sibley of Manassas, VA, and David (Roxana) Mullaney of Fort Collins, CO; eight grandchildren, Caitrin (Adam) Keiper, Thomas (Becky) Nicol, Galen (Laura) Nicol, Megan Sibley, Hannah Mullaney, DJ Mullaney, Kara Sibley, and John Nicol; and one great-grandchild, Edmund Keiper.

Funeral services will be at Bruton Parish Church at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, December 9, to be followed by a reception at the Tidewater Room of the Williamsburg Lodge. The family suggests donations in her memory may be made to the Williamsburg chapter of Faith in Action ( or the League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area (

Published in Virginia Gazette on Dec. 2, 2017 (where condolences and memories may be shared and appreciated)

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