A true Renaissance woman who was ahead of her time but loved all things historic, Ruth
(“Ruthie”) Finch Strachan died peacefully on July 27 at her home in Ipswich after a day spent
working in her garden and swimming in the ocean. She was 86.
Born on April 4, 1934, to Olive Amelia (Robinson) Finch and Lewis Turner Finch, Ruth grew up
in Bloomfield, CT, as an only child. After graduating from Smith College with a bachelor’s
degree in English, she got a job as a photographer at the Polaroid Corporation where she worked
with scientist and inventor Dr. Edwin Land. It was there that she met her husband, Kenneth
Strachan, of Gloucester. They settled in Marblehead, MA in 1958, where they enjoyed crewing
sailboats in the summers and skiing with friends in Jackson, NH, in the winters.
After having her two children, she began a life rich with volunteer work and a variety of jobs,
including working as a draft designer for a dock company, researching and cataloging historic
homes, and teaching SAT prep classes. It was while she was pushing a stroller and walking with
her young children around Marblehead that she became interested in the history and architecture
of the town’s many pre-Revolutionary War homes and buildings.
She was hired as a librarian at the Rhodes School in Marblehead, where she became a defacto
STEM teacher before it became popularized. She worked with elementary school students to
build a dinghy from scratch. They steamed, clamped, shaped the wood, and assembled the
dinghy right in the library. They launched it in Marblehead Harbor, and the children took turns
rowing it. At the Bell Elementary School, she built a geodesic dome to teach her young students
about math and engineering. They later used it as a reading nook.
Based on her deep knowledge of historic buildings, which was largely self-taught, she was
appointed to the newly formed Marblehead Old and Historic Districts Commission (OHDC) and
served from 1968-1974 and again from 1987-2000. For some of those years, she served as chair.
A survey of historic buildings she undertook during this time was the basis for listing the
Marblehead Historic District in the National Register of Historic Places in 1984. In 1999, the
Board of Selectmen refused to accept her resignation letter, with the board chair assigned to help
change her mind and another stating simply, “We don’t want her to resign.”
As one friend wrote, “Ruth Strachan’s foresight and bravery saved Marblehead’s historic core.
As the leader of the OHDC in its first contentious days, she fought for preserving one of
America’s best collections of lived-in historic houses. Without her vision, today’s charming
closely knit neighborhoods and historic homes would have been ruined. She may have incurred
the wrath of some homeowners, but Marblehead owes its beauty and grace to her vigilance.”
In addition to continuing her volunteer work, she enrolled at Lesley University in Cambridge
where she received a master’s degree in social work and began working for the Massachusetts
Department of Social Services, helping troubled families and children for the next 15 years.
Among her friends she became known as “Dr. Ruth” for her practical advice and wisdom.
If that wasn’t enough, she took up windsurfing when there were still wooden booms and was the
first person to receive town approval to teach windsurfing from her one-person school on
Riverhead Beach in Marblehead, which she did from 1980-1985.
In 2005, she sold her beloved home on High Street in Marblehead to move to Ipswich to be
closer to her grandchildren. She and her family built a small carriage house which was carefully
crafted to fit in perfectly with the historic houses in the neighborhood. While in Ipswich, she
started working as an independent contractor for the U.S. military helping military families
affected by PTSD. She worked at military bases in the U.S and abroad, including Germany,
Spain, Alaska, Hawaii, Texas, and Delaware.
After she finally retired, she threw herself into volunteering for everything Ipswich had to offer.
She served on both the Ipswich Historical Commission and the Architectural Preservation
District Commission. She was a member of the Democratic Town Committee and a volunteer for
the Essex County Greenbelt Association. She maintained the gardens at their headquarters in
Essex for many years.
She fiercely loved her two grandchildren, Camden and Tess, who lovingly called her “Uffie” as a
play on her nickname “Ruthie”. She was a regular at every horse show, lacrosse game, and
school event, no matter how mundane, even through their time in college.
She was the ultimate “cool” mom, even though her two children just wanted her to be “normal”.
She was a mentor to many and a brilliant conversationalist (or a steadfast debater, depending on
your view). She was a friend to all who walked down Summer Street in Ipswich as she was
tending her beloved garden, even if she had no idea who you were. She just loved to talk with
people and put a smile on everyone’s face with her quick wit and endless knowledge.
She leaves behind a legacy that is truly unmatched. She never stopped working to make the
world a better and more interesting place, from pulling her children out of school to go to
protests in Boston to teaching her grandchildren as much as they would let her. She lived an
amazingly full life, and everyone who knew her appreciated how special she was. Ruth will be
remembered with love and missed by many.
In addition to her grandchildren, Camden A. Murray and Tess L. Murray, she leaves her two
children, Andrew F. Strachan and M. Elizabeth L. Murray, her daughter-in-law, Jillian (Sada
Bahar) Rennie, and her son-in-law, Christopher J. Murray. She was predeceased by her husband,
Kenneth Everett Strachan.
A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held Saturday August 8, 2020 at 10:00 A.M. at 37 Summer Street, Ipswich. Assisting the family is the Morris Funeral Home of Ipswich. To send a letter of condolence to Ruth’s family please go to: MorrisFH.com .
To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Ruth Finch Strachan, please visit our floral store.