The events of 1920 involved some major milestones: the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote, First Lady Edith Wilson became de facto president of the United States when her husband suffered a stroke and another strong woman was born in Columbus County. Her name was Ruby Williamson.
She was born on Aug. 2 on the family farm at Sellerstown, south of Whiteville. She was the youngest of 11 children born to Charlie Pearl Williamson and Flora Bernice Duncan Williamson. She celebrated that 100th birthday recently with friends and family at Liberty Commons in Whiteville.
She came into the world of the Roaring Twenties but grew up during The Great Depression. The Williamson family, like most rural families at that time, were not greatly affected. As farmers, they were fairly self-sufficient and hard work had always been a part of their life. So, the family thrived: each one (except R.C. who died as a small child) worked hard, got their education, married and raised their own families.
Ruby graduated from Whiteville High School in 1939, another momentous year in history. The world was on the brink of war in Europe; you could buy a new car for $700 and fill it with gasoline for 10 cents a gallon.
And Ruby began her long tenure with Moskow’s Department Store in Whiteville. That was the year that “Gone with the Wind” came out, and, right across the street from Moskow’s, “The Cowboy and the Lady” with Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon was playing at the Madison Theater. Ruby and Herman Thompson were “keeping company” at that time. That movie might have been a good title for Herman and Ruby; it fitted their personalities. But her brother Robert said, “She had religious reservations about movies and she was too ‘tight with her money’ to spend it on movies.” In any case, they were married in 1940.
That year, the clerk of court in Columbus County recorded 177 marriages and 43 divorces. Ruby and Herman were married for 62 years, right up until Herman died in 2002, just a few months short of his 82nd birthday.
Those were 62 wonderful years for the couple. They both continued to work: Herman on the farm and at other business ventures, and Ruby at Moskow’s. According to family and friends, “Everybody knew Ruby.” She was in the sales department, and, as was the case in most small towns, knew her customers so well, she could “pre-shop” for them, choosing clothes she knew they would like before they even came in the store. Her niece, Jan Williamson, who now lives in Virginia, remembered, “When we would come back to Whiteville to visit the family, it was a huge treat to go by Moskow’s and pick out clothes that Aunt Ruby would get for us, then have hot dogs at Ward’s Grill”.
Ruby’s brother Robert Williamson now lives near Hallsboro and recalls his sister as always “active and busy.
“When we were growing up on the farm, she was always doing something and when she went to school, she was involved in athletics. She was strong, too!” She went to New Hope School and then to Whiteville High School.
Robert said, “They didn’t have any children of their own but Ruby was ‘Grandma’ to the whole community.” Part of being “grandma” involved her considerable cooking skills. An active member of the Free Welcome Christian Church in Sellerstown, Ruby has taken numerous children “under her arm” and provided meals for many church “dinners on the grounds.”
Jan remembers, “Aunt Ruby was an amazing cook! She would single-handedly cook almost every dish for our family reunions. Her most famous dish was fried chicken cooked in an iron skillet! And I loved picking pomegranates from her trees. And she had bird feeders everywhere!”
For a short while after her retirement from Moskow’s, Ruby moved to a little mountain cabin near Boone, but she has since returned and now is a resident of Liberty Commons in Whiteville. “I do believe she has bird feeders outside her room at Liberty Commons,” declared Jan.
A hundred years of memories may have faded for Ruby Thompson. But memories of her will live in the hearts and minds of the many friends she made and the family of which she is such a big part.