Saturday, November 27, 2010

Remembering Ruth Plummer

I wrote this eulogy for the funeral of Ruth Plummer. Ruth was my first manager. She worked hard, gave me a lot of support and launched my career as an organist nation-wide. She was a great and sweet friend.

Eulogy for the funeral service of Ruth Plummer
Burbank, California

Remembering Ruth Plummer

Ruth Plummer suffered from an inoperable brain tumor which appeared in all its horrific, sudden ways this past month. It was very aggressive, growing with immense speed. I spoke to her often during the three weeks that she was in the hospital and in the hospice. She underwent 5 days of radiation which left her very tired. She stopped eating and slipped out of consciousness about 5 days before her death.

All in all, it was only 3 weeks from diagnosis until death. She knew that she had a short time to live and she seemed outwardly to accept it. But who knows for sure what she was really feeling inside? Perhaps she was in that shocked and precarious numb state that often characterizes the beginning of this kind of journey, and just simply hadn't yet arrived to the stage where she would become immensely upset. Maybe she mercifully passed away before reaching the point. Or maybe she kept many of her deepest feelings to herself. Whatever she decided to do in her final few weeks, she did it with dignity, just like everything she did in life.

Even though I may have learned something from her passing, I certainly learned a lot from her life. She was my first agent, gave me my start and believed in me. My gratitude for that, and for the blessing of her friendship, knows no bounds. I told her this before she died, and I also told her how much I loved her. And during those sad last weeks, I also thought about the many ways Ruth had touched my life.

She taught me how to take time to slow down and appreciate the quieter moments in life. In all the many times I stayed with her at her home, there were so many evenings during which we would enjoy a nice dinner and relax with a glass of wine and watch the sun go down. She lived high on a hill near Silver Lake with a commanding view of Hollywood down below, looking miles away toward Century City. Her large living room windows looked due west, and we would see the most spectacular sunsets at dusk. Later on, we would watch her favorite television shows, myself curled up in a large reclining easy chair that belonged to her beloved late husband, Stuart. As evening fell, the lights of the city below would shine and twinkle in that spectacular way that only the lights of Los Angeles can do. These were sweet, relaxed evenings in which there was no pressure to do anything except enjoy the moment, and I can picture them in my mind as if they happened yesterday. And I think of how many times I rejoiced at being able to open her front door and pull a lime right off the tree within grabbing distance, and eat it right away.

We also laughed a lot: I remember when she showed me the music to "Yiddische Mama." She had just played a temple service, was driving the car as I was looking at the music, and was almost doubled over in laughter right there in the middle of Virgil Street as I sang the song to her in my most outrageously over-the-top Brooklyn-Tel Aviv Yiddische Mama accent!

She gave me the great gift of her friendship, and this was also manifested in the friendships I made through her too. I think of all the people who have graced and so deeply touched my life because Ruth brought us all together: Phil Smith, Bill Baumann, Philip and Jean Dodson, Virginia Lingren, Betty Kettleson, Les and Dorothy Remsen, Doug Wilkie, Ladd Thomas and Cherry Rhodes, Robert Tall, Frederick Swann, Robert Turner, Barbara Kalman, and Ruth and Stu's kids: Pamela and Byron,and Phil and Dianne Ramon.

And speaking of her husband, no one can ever forget the fabulous Stuart, who together with Ruth filled the house with laughter, music, enthusiasm and great food. There are many more people who are on this list, of course, but this is an example how a woman who was small in physical stature and possessed a big, kind heart, touched and graced our lives. And we are so much the better for it.

Ruth loved the organ, organ repertoire and sacred music. She gave all of her church and temple jobs her most dedicated service. She worked hard, practiced diligently (I remember her always practicing scales on the piano before she began to practice hymns and organ repertoire in preparation for a service). She felt that the text of a hymn was the absolute guide for the right tempo, registration and harmony--and when she played a hymn, she knew every word by heart. She was blessed to work for clergy and congregations who appreciated and rejoiced in her talents, though in one circumstance, Ruth had to endure the ongoing brutality of one particular member of the clergy, a situation experienced by many church musicians. In this instance, she unwaveringly continued to give her very best every week, providing beautiful, inspiring music for her congregation. She would not allow herself to be broken by a thug. Ruth could be very tough when necessary.

She was a one-woman operation in terms of her management business, worked hard and in a thoroughly disciplined way, and approached herprofession with the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

She was in her office promptly at 9 AM and worked almost nonstop until about 4:30 in the afternoon. There were those of us who had been on her roster for years and with whom Ruth had developed deep friendships full of love, trust and openness. I was sitting next to her one day when the telephone rang: news of her younger brother's death. She hung up the phone and started to cry. I remember how she hard she wept as she said "My poor baby brother." My heart went out to her and I tried to comfort her. I was staying at her house then and she had to go up to Alameda for the funeral. I told her that I would watch everything and take care of her home while she was gone. It was the least I could do for someone who had been so kind to me.

In closing, I will always remember what Ruth would say to guests as she would pour them a glass of wine in her kitchen: "Let's go into the living room and LIVE!" I think this sums up Ruth in a marvelous way. It was her philosophy.

She had known both incredible happiness and incredible tragedy in her life. Yet, she always lived, and in all the right ways too.

So the next time any of us pours a glass of wine, orange juice, martini, water, or whatever one enjoys drinking, let's raise our glasses to Ruth and say, "Let's go into the living room and LIVE!" Of course, Ruth was teaching us to go anywhere and live, really live, each moment to the fullest. That's an absolutely great attitude about life!

Thank you, dear wonderful Ruth. We thank God that you lived among us, and may He bless you in His heavenly kingdom, now and forever.