Ruth Seay Adams, 88, secretary, housekeeper

May 02, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Ruth Seay Adams, a seasoned secretary and single mother who worked as a housekeeper during the Great Depression, died of a heart attack at Millennium Nursing Home in Ellicott City on April 25. The longtime Roland Park resident was 88.

Ruth Seay was born in Asheville, N.C., one of 14 children. Her father was a chief engineer on a local run of the Southern Railroad. She graduated from high school in nearby Saluda, N.C., in 1932.

She followed friends to Atlanta, and worked as a nanny and housekeeper for several families. On her last job, she fell in love with the elder son of the family, Robert Adams, a student at the University of Georgia.

They eloped in 1936 because both families objected to their union because of social and religious reasons. Several months later, Mr. Adams, who was cut off from his family's money, was killed in an auto accident.

Pregnant with their son, Mrs. Adams moved to Baltimore later that year to join a sister who was living here. At Penn Station, Mrs. Adams began a lifelong friendship with Hilda McKean Barry, who gave her work as a housekeeper and later became a housemate.

Mrs. Adams' child, R. Kent Adams, was born in 1937. They lived in Waverly until 1943, when they moved to Roland Park and lived with Miss Barry and another friend, Esther Julia Woodward. Mrs. Adams remained in the neighborhood for 60 years.

"I grew up with three mothers, all extremely strong women," said Mr. Adams, of Ellicott City.

Mr. Adams credits his mother's resilience in raising a child without a father.

"She was a single parent 30 years before the term ever evolved, and I was a latchkey kid 30 years before the term evolved," he said.

Mrs. Adams taught herself shorthand and typing, and worked as a secretary for several physicians during World War II before going to work at the Maryland League for Crippled Children.

In 1946, she worked as a secretary for the Western Maryland Railroad and remained there until the early 1950s, when she joined the John H. Hampshire Co. Though she started as a secretary, in about a decade she was managing several other secretaries in the company's roof-deck department. She retired in 1979.

"She loved her job," her son said. "My mother was a bright, intelligent woman with great people skills."

In her spare time, Mrs. Adams enjoyed collecting antiques, singing in amateur choral groups, designing and making jewelry, and swimming. She worked as a part-time volunteer nurse at Union Memorial Hospital in the 1960s.

She spent much of the past quarter-century taking care of her sister and helping to raise her granddaughter.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Adams is survived by three brothers, James Seay of Big Stone Gap, Va., Ryal Seay of Falling Waters, W.Va., and Donald Seay of Glencoe, Minn.; two sisters, Mary Naccarato of Ocean View, Del., and Martha Harding of Saluda, N.C.; one granddaughter; and one great-granddaughter.

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