When a loved one is born or dies, it feels as though the world should stop spinning and take notice. But there is also something comforting in the fact that it does not—that an infant immediately becomes incorporated into the world's rotation, and that those of us left behind after a loss are forced to stay in motion, too.
My grandma, Ruth Leslie Bean, passed away peacefully May 23 at 93 years old. (Surely Grandpa was waiting with open arms for his bride of 71 years.) Somehow, the world did not stop spinning as Grandma left it, but I would love for you to take notice just the same. As many people have commented, she was one of the "greatest of the Greatest Generation."
She was glamour, grace, selflessness and strength embodied. She was a mover and a shaker—a true and natural leader. She was daring. She was a devoted wife, mother of six, grandmother of 16 and great-grandmother of 27. And she was my hero.
Grandma believed that "to whom much is given, much is expected," and she practiced this belief every day of her life, leaving behind a legacy of philanthropy, improved communities and the enormous family she loved so fiercely. I promise her accomplishments, described here in her obituary, will astound and inspire you. (It even turned out that 30 years ago she helped found Avow Hospice in Naples, which assisted in her end-of-life care. What goes around really does come around.)
My grandparents were avid supporters of education for their children and grandchildren, as well as for those less fortunate in the community. Their influence on my life could never be boiled down to a few sentences, but it is easy to point to their support of my education at Blake, Swiss Semester and Duke as a game-changer. I'm not sure who or where I would be without the experiences and friendships I found at such amazing schools.
Something that has helped me a great deal over the last few weeks is the idea that so many of my friends' and acquaintances' lives have been touched by my grandma, even if they never met her.
Whether you are affiliated with The Blake School or Northrop Collegiate School (she was the first female chair of the board of trustees), have sought or provided treatment at Minneapolis Children's Hospital (which she co-founded), or just lived any amount of time in Minneapolis, her life has likely touched yours in some way. Her reach was wide, and her devotion to leaving the world a better place was unending.
Perhaps she even buzzed over your head one day as she piloted one of the several planes she was licensed to fly. Or maybe, at age 85, she sped past you in her red convertible and made you smile to see someone so far along in life still enjoying every minute of it, and fashionably so.
Rest in peace, Grandma. Thank you for showing us how to change the world.
(My grandparents' lives fascinate and inspire me, and I've written about them here several times: On motherhood, Grandma knows best; Farewell, beloved Leica collection; Grandma still knows best; Saying goodbye to Grandpa and Reflections on our Florida visit. You can expect to see more essays about them in the future.)
Photo above: My grandpa, John B. Bean, took this picture in 1958 of his wife, the "most beautiful woman he had ever seen." Below: My grandparents on their wedding day. Photographer unknown.
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.