By Stacy Smith
With hair turned from red to white and wearing a blue suit, Ruth Brigham reigns in her hometown as Ms. Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center.
The first man she ever dated; Harold Brigham liked her red hair. She lived in Washington, D.C., and worked for the FBI searching fingerprints in the male criminal files. He served in the Navy stationed in Washington, D.C.
On a date he told her, “Your green eyes tell me go, but your red hair tells me stop.”
They moved back to Alabama in 1951, and he was her husband of 32 years. She has three children, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“Come on Ms. Ruth, we will help you,” the young people who work at Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center always tell her.
“I have done things here that I never thought I would be able to do,” said Brigham, age 94. “We’ve had ‘Elvis’ come and bring the house down! We have a little horse that comes for pet therapy. We’ve even performed a hand bell choir show to standing room only.”
One of her favorite things about living in the nursing home is the way they root and cheer for each other. She has fun getting to know the other residents and staff.
“It’s like one big family! I love helping others, and getting to know all the residents here,” said Brigham.
Brigham has a blindness. “Living in a nursing home has given me security. My medicine is given safely. I am assisted with my bath. My food is served on a divided plate to help me see to eat more easily. I have made so many friends and neighbors. I am now part of a big family. I’m not lonely anymore,” said Brigham.
About 14 years ago, her daughter traveled with her to Scotland and England for eight days.
“For my 80th birthday, we went through museums and old church yards that had been standing since the 12th century. It was spring, and we got to see baby lambs being born. Buttercups grew wild everywhere, and the museums were breathtaking. For an old country girl, that trip was out of this world, and one that I will cherish for as long as I live!” said Brigham.
“Ms. Ruth is an uplifting, kind, encouraging, cheerful lady. She is unquestionably a genuine and optimistic person with a love for life. She is a gem of a nursing home resident who participates in activities and encourages participation from other residents as well,” said Alyssa Aikens, Activities Director at Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center.
During her working years, she worked for the schools, and then later as an aide for Head Start. She also worked at Cullman Medical Center with newborn babies, and was very familiar with Hanceville Nursing & Rehab Center having worked there as an aide on the main hall.
She greatly admired her mother’s way of teaching.
“My mother always counseled us with such gentleness and patience. One time she caught my sister and me gossiping. She said that your words are like arrows that you shoot up in the air. You never know where it will go, or who it will hurt,” said Brigham.
Active in the community, she and her husband founded the local Lion’s Club, and worked on committees to bring Wallace State Community College to Hanceville. She was a scout leader, hosted volunteer fire department meetings in her home, and was active in the school PTO and a home room volunteer for 18 years.
“For hobbies, I made cathedral window quilts, latch hook rugs, knitted sweaters and cross-stitched artwork. I was known as ‘the pound cake lady’ at church. I also enjoy writing poetry when I get inspired,” said Brigham.
Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a 10-part series about the finalists for the 2019 Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant. On July 22, we’ll post a story about Ms. St. Martin’s in the Pines Juanita Tant.
Stacy Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Ms. Alabama Nursing Home Pageant is July 29. Click here for more information.