Ruth (Shea ’41) Willett, former community member and the last surviving member of the eight Shea children born to pastor and evangelist Adam J. Shea and his wife, Maude Whitney Shea, passed away on July 12, 2015, in Dahlonega, Georgia, following a brief illness. She was 95 years old.
Born Houghton, New York, in 1920, Ruth was number seven of the eight Shea siblings. She was the only Shea sibling born in the United States and the only one native to the Houghton community. Ruth had no time to form childhood memories of her days in Houghton, however; the Shea family moved back to Canada while she was still an infant. Ruth returned to Houghton as a college student and graduated in 1941—the same year she married Edward J. Willett ’39. The Willett family lived in Syracuse, New York, until 1962, when Ed was invited back to Houghton as professor of economics. Ruth and her family lived in the Houghton community for 32 years until Ed’s retirement in 1994.
“She had a ready laugh and a welcoming, friendly face,” remembers Houghton community member and close friend Sylvia Greenway. “She made you feel like you could tell her anything. You couldn’t help but be drawn to her!” Friends and family alike enjoyed Ruth’s humor, hospitality and deep faith. “She was fun-loving with a sharp sense of humor that only a few saw,” remembers niece Nancy (Wright ’70) Tucker. “But most of all she was a woman of faith and of prayer. She had known trouble and hardship: she had lost two children. But she didn’t complain; she would just giggle when her needs were met and would thank God.” Former director of public information and friend Dean Liddick ’60 recalls, “To me, Ruth always had a queenly quality. She was a gracious hostess and an engaging conversationalist.”
Ruth was also known for her nurturing, encouraging spirit and her listening ear—gifts she often used behind the scenes. “I think this was her primary gift to me,” commented Dr. Rev. J. Michael “Mike” Walters ’86, former pastor of Houghton Wesleyan Church and retired professor of Christian ministries, at Ruth’s memorial service. He remembers the way Ruth encouraged him in his early days at Houghton Wesleyan Church. “As a new pastor, I was in way over my head here…Ruth made her way into my life as a wise and steady presence, always urging to follow God’s leading regardless of the cost. I know that pastors aren’t supposed to have favorites…but I readily confess that Ruth Willett was one of my favorites!”
Ruth is survived by children, Dr. Thomas L. Willett ’68 and Rev. Christine (Willett ’73) Greenwald and husband Rev. Gary Greenwald ’71; grandchildren, Cynthia W. Galko, Jessica Willett, Katie Greenwald, Peter W. Greenwald, Philip A. Greenwald, Heidi Willett, Lance B. Willett, Rev. Adria (Willett ’98) Pearson, Kerensa “Kerry” (Gillette ’02) Morneau, and Audrey (Gillette ’11) McConnell and step-grandchild Rachel E. Kern ’02; many nieces and nephews including Brock W. Baker ’74 and wife Deborah (Neider ’74) Baker; Tod H. Baker and wife Ann (Morris ’81) Baker Esq.; A. Jonathan Shea ’63, Eila Shea ’66, Dr. Paul W. Shea ’69 and wife Debbie (Greenmeyer ’69) Shea; Ron Shea, Mary E. (Robinson ’66) Sitzer, Sally (Shea ’56) Syme, and Nancy (Wright ’70) Tucker; daughter-in-law Karen (Mikesell ’67) Lorimer; son-in-law John R. Gillette ’76; and sister-in-law Karlene Shea.
In addition to her parents, Ruth was preceded in death by her husband, Edward J. Willett ’39; two children, Daniel Starbuck Willett ’64 and Holly (Willett ’77) Gillette; siblings Pauline Shea Lusk, J. Whitney Shea ’33 and wife Phoebe (Lusk ’26) Shea, Mary (Shea ’23) Robinson, George Beverly Shea ’32, Alton J. Shea ’36, Lois (Shea ’38) Wright and husband Dr. Kenneth Wright ’34, and Grace Baker; and nephew, Rev. David W. Robinson ’63.