Portadown woman Ruth Blevins (55) was an inspiration to all
Full of joy and laughter and blessed with great determination, Ruth Blevins conquered more in her 55 years than many do in a lifetime.
Though challenged with deafness and blind, Ruth was incredibly inquisitive and determined to do things some thought impossible.
Ruth Blevins was born in Portadown in October 1965, the daughter of Norris and Maureen Blevins. Her mother had contracted Rubella (German measles) during pregnancy and Ruth was born deaf and with very limited sight - she went completely blind later in life. She had four brothers: Harold, Derek, David and Stephen.
Her childhood was divided between her home in Portadown and her school in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
She spent a short time at Jordanstown School for the Deaf outside Belfast but 12 years at Condover Hall School for the Deaf Blind in Shrewsbury, Shropshire.
Her mother flew to England and back 12 times a year for 12 years to ensure Ruth was given every opportunity to succeed. At Condover, she learned a bespoke type of sign language for children who are both deaf and blind and excelled at every lesson and extra-curricular activity.
Ruth worked as a Domestic Assistant in the Laundry and Estates Department of Craigavon Area Hospital (Southern Health and Social Care Trust) for 36 years - an incredible achievement for someone without sight or hearing.
Her boss described her as ‘a joy to be around’. COVID restrictions in the hospital prevented her from working for 12 months but she was determined to return and did so just three months ago. She was a well-known character around the hospital.
Her brother David said: “Ruth had what I describe as a contagious joy. She laughed a lot and she made other people laugh wherever she went.
“To describe her as inquisitive would be an understatement. When Mum stopped to talk to people, Ruth would immediately stick her hand out for Mum to sign who it was.
“She had an exceptional memory, particularly for birthdays. She knew everyone’s birthday and, even if she hadn’t seen them for years, would waken on their birthday and ask Mum if she had sent a card or a text message.”
Ruth had a more active social life than her four brothers combined! She attended the Deaf Club, the Eagle Fellowship, the Disabled Christian Fellowship to name but a few.
She never missed Sunday worship at her church - Tandragee Methodist.
She had a wide network around her - work colleagues, social workers, befrienders, etc. Her family is deeply grateful for the contribution each of them made to her life. Her funeral was restricted to 60 people but more than 3,000 people have watched it online.
If one word could sum up Ruth, her family believe it is ‘determined’. She embodied the Helen Keller quotation: “While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.”
David said: “While we, as a family, were busy asking how Ruth would cope with school, with work and with life in general, Ruth just kept answering the question by accomplishing more than we ever imagined. When Ruth decided something had to be done and done in a certain way, there was no changing her mind.
“She had the kindest heart. Ruth used to help facilitate sign-language exams but when candidates forgot the vowel, she would lift the right finger to help them pass. Failure wasn’t in her vocabulary.”
Ruth has been an inspiration to many and her family attributes it to her sense of joy.
Her brother Stephen said: “People were inspired by her ability to converse on her hands, by her achievements at school and at work, by her active social life.
“But among the many lovely memories they have shared with us since her passing, there is one word we have heard repeatedly: laugh. Even when she was telling her younger nieces and nephews off for messing up her bedroom, she would laugh. She just loved a bit of craic and it radiated from her.”
He explained: “When Ruth was born, the doctors gave her little hope. They said she would never sit upright, never mind walk but a Methodist lay preacher prayed for her and the following morning, she sat upright for the first time.
“She had begun to rewrite her story. She was one of Northern Ireland’s Young Deaf Achievers in 1993, a bridesmaid at two weddings and enjoyed holidaying with relatives living in Spain and Scotland.”
David recalled: “For Ruth’s 50th birthday, Mum and her travelled to my brother Derek’s home in Spain. What they didn’t know was that Ruth’s other three brothers - Harold, David and Stephen - had flown to Spain six hours behind them. When Mum and Ruth arrived at a hotel for Ruth’s birthday breakfast, we were all there to surprise her. Mum could not believe her eyes and Ruth did what Ruth always did - laughed and laughed.”
David said: “Ruth was not just the centre of our family - the only daughter/sister, with two older brothers and two younger brothers - she was the life and soul of it.
“Our late father adored her (she often spoke about how he would hug her again when she got to heaven) and Mum devoted her entire life to Ruth.
“Her brothers wanted to change the world for her but Ruth ended up changing the world for us in every positive sense. She totally enriched our lives.”
At Ruth’s funeral her brothers paid a beautiful tribute to both their sister and their mum. “Mum, we love you. A unique daughter needed a unique mother and God chose the very best for Ruth. You have devoted your life to her, been her rock in every sense and you’ll not have to leave her behind. God, in His grace, has taken her on ahead, waiting on the other side.”
Ruth Ann Elizabeth Blevins, from Turnberry Green, Tandragee, died suddenly at home on September 13.
She was the dearly loved daughter of Maureen and the late Norris and sister of Harold, Derek, David and Stephen.
Her funeral was in Tandragee Methodist Church on Thursday 16th September 2021 followed by interment at Killyman Parish Churchyard.
The family has asked that donations in lieu of flowers can be made to Sense NI, c/o George McNabb & Co, 106 Bridge Street, Portadown, BT63 5AP.
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