Magic in her fingers, wholeness in her heart

A few years ago I attended the funeral of a doctor that I cared for very much. The funeral was at Central United Church. My overwhelming memory from that funeral is the final song… Charlie Carswell at the organ; Ruth Carswell at the grand piano. They were simultaneously playing different songs, blending musical phrases and notes into a very moving tribute, variations on Abide With Me. It gives me goosebumps just to remember it.

Ruth was playing proficiently by the age of four. By age 11 she cut her first record, in 1953, a 78 rpm. Three years later she was hired to be the Saturday morning accompanist for the National Ballet of Canada School and Celia Franca. It was her first paying ‘gig’ and she thrilled at that.

The magic that came from Ruth Carswell’s fingers expressed itself at the piano or the organ, but the brilliance came from her mind. A graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music, University of Toronto while still in her teens, Ruth lived and breathed music. She found in her life partner an equally enthusiastic musician and together they have sent sound waves across this community.

Ruth Carswell died Tuesday at noon. At home. Cared for by the man who was her partner for 41 years.

For the best part of a year, Ruth worked her life around pancreatic cancer. With close medical associates, a fighter’s stance, and the solace of music, Ruth’s final months involved the love of friends, the companionship of family and the sound of music. On the day before she died, friends were in her bedroom singing to Ruth, sending her off with a music tribute.

Ruth Carswell represents diversity in life. She was a fabulous cook. People loved to be invited to a Carswell dinner… music, food, friendship… it doesn’t get any better!

She was a dedicated mother. She and Charlie revelled in their three sons and reached rock bottom with the early deaths of two other children. To know great sadness is to reach into one’s soul and face an abyss. Music was her sanity and the couple’s salvation and connection during their worst losses in married life. Ruth did that. And in her soul she found a throaty laugh that bubbled to the surface now and then.

Ruth Jackson grew up in Toronto, attended Humberside Collegiate, pursued a thorough athletic career in track and field and competitive swimming. She played a great violin and in the school orchestra and the Timothy Eaton Church Orchestra.

While a professional musician, she also graduated as a registered nurse and worked in the medical field during her professional life. She worked as a nurse at Sick Kids and Scarborough Centenary hospitals. Before moving to Barrie 14 years ago, Ruth played for the York Region Children’s Chorus for 20 years. She played the piano, was senior advisor, chief of parents social committee, always the centre of a party in various parts of the world

Moving to Barrie brought a whole new keyboard into focus for Ruth. She became the pianist for Bravado, the popular chorus which has performed across Barrie for years. While songsters were perfecting choreography and melody, Ruth was learning complicated music, pounding out bouncing songs, mastering jazz, squeezing empathy out of moody ballads.

She accompanied many, many music students of voice or flute for Kiwanis Festivals across the region. As an accompanist, Ruth had a unique skill, the ability to match note and nuance to every performer.

She took a critical turn last year when medical symptoms turned into a sad diagnosis. But still, Ruth maintained perspective and hope. Most important, hope. She continued to live as full a life as possible, cooking for friends at the family cottage, visiting when her health allowed.

Ruth did her final address change this week, days before the wedding of her second son. While she won’t be sitting in a pew during that wedding, she’ll be there in heart, in song, in beatitude. When friends and family gather for her memorial at Central United Church on October 18, the musical focus will be entirely for Ruth.

Thanks, Ruth. We are so grateful.