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Guy Ruth

A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Guy Ruth Smith Pappelis died. That’s her above, and me, out by the pool not long after we moved to Louisiana. She was in her late 80s, and suffering a great deal. She had had at least two hip replacement surgeries in recent years, and was in constant pain. Far as I could tell, she pretty much lived on painkillers, J&B Scotch, and whatever chicken scratch her caretaker could get her to eat. I was headed to New Orleans when my cousin Andy called with the news. It was a relief to know that she was no longer in agony.

Guy Ruth — named for her father and her mother — was a character. It’s a cliche to say that, but in her case, she really was larger than life. She called everybody “dahlin’,” and said it in a Golden Age of Hollywood way. Imagine 3 parts Elizabeth Ashley and one part Joan Crawford, and you’ve got Cousin Guy. I’m not quite sure how we’re related, except that it’s on my father’s side.

I had heard about Guy Ruth many years before I met her. She was the legendary swanky cousin who lived in New Orleans, and put on airs. She was an only child. Her folks, Uncle Smitty and Aunt Ruth, called her “Baby,” a nickname that stayed with her until the last member of the generation that knew her from childhood — that is to say, my dad — passed away. As a little boy, I heard the grown-ups talking about Guy Ruth from time to time. With that unusual name, and the mystery of New Orleans about her, I thought she surely must be some impossibly glamorous creature.

I don’t know when I met her for the first time, but I am pretty sure that she lived up to expectations. There was nobody else in my life like Guy Ruth. Never has been. She and her husband Ted lived out by Lake Pontchartrain, and we rarely saw them, or at least I rarely did. But I knew about her. The fact that Daddy viewed her with intense suspicion only made her seem more mysterious and alluring.

A couple of days after Hurricane Katrina hit, I was sitting at my desk in Dallas when the phone rang. It was my sister Ruthie. “You’re never going to guess what I just saw on CNN!” she said.

She had been watching a live shot from a landing where rescuers were dropping the people they were saving from their houses. Guy Ruth and Ted’s house had flooded, and we weren’t sure what had happened to them. I found out later than my cousin Andy had asked some men he knew who were doing rescues to float by their place and check on them. Guy Ruth and Ted, who were by then in their seventies, had been hiding out in their attic, the rest of the house having been swallowed by the floodwaters. The men pulled them out of their attic, and delivered the pair to civilization.

“Guy Ruth climbed out of that rescue boat dressed to the nines!” Ruthie said. “She was wearing gloves and pearls, and carrying her Persian cats!”

Of course she was. Guy Ruth dressed up for her rescue. That was Cousin Guy. Whenever I thought of her, it was always in Galatoire’s, circa 1964. In her youth, she was strikingly beautiful, and had been a Revlon model. She ended up running a modeling agency. Whatever else would she do? When “Mad Men” came on, I remember thinking, Guy Ruth is the New Orleans version of one of those characters. 

Guy Ruth and Ted did not attempt to rebuild in New Orleans. They took refuge in a family cottage in Starhill, up in the country, and built a house on a lot in town. Two weeks after they moved in, around 2007 or so, Ted died. Guy Ruth lived there alone, except for the caretaker she eventually needed, until she died suddenly there two weeks ago.

On a visit home from Dallas, I took my wife by to meet Cousin Guy. She greeted us wearing a chic beige pantsuit, and invited us to sit down. She made a round of J&Bs on the rocks, and settled in to suss out political gossip from me. She was an arch-Republican, and lord, did she love to gossip. I remember thinking, “This is the kind of person you only see in the movies.” But she was the real deal. I remember my father muttering “she’s so false,” but that was only half true. Guy Ruth may have been false, but she was authentically false. She had no pretenses; that’s who she really was.

I loved her for it. Honestly, I did. It’s easy for me to say that, because I didn’t have to live with her or take care of her. Guy Ruth was a difficult woman in a thousand ways. My cousin Nancy was heroically devoted to her. Who else would have been? Guy and Ted had no children. All their friends they had left behind in New Orleans, or were scattered to the winds by the storm. I think Guy must have been utterly miserable in the country. Whenever I saw her, she wanted to hear stories about the latest places to which I had traveled. She received those stories with the same wide eyes you see above, as if she were an exile hearing a report from her lost homeland.

She died on a Saturday morning. That night, I was with my son at the Trombone Shorty concert in New Orleans, at the Saenger Theater at the corner of Rampart and Canal. The show was spectacular. I kept thinking throughout that if Guy Ruth could have been there, exuberant and fully in her element. I don’t think that waspish old Republican lady from Lakeview would have taken much pleasure in Trombone Shorty’s music per se, but she would have been so happy to have been back in the city, and witness to such a pure expression of its soul, that she would have just about levitated from joy. I kept praying for her soul throughout the show, oddly enough, and imagined her in heaven, second-lining, drinking J&B, and thinking that it’s not so bad there, but it’s not New Orleans.

I don’t want to give you the wrong idea about Guy Ruth. I don’t think she had a pious bone in her body. In her will, she directed that she be cremated, have no religious service, and be interred with Ted’s ashes in the Starhill Cemetery. We’ll gather as a family there for the burial, and that will be that. Her Persians — I don’t know if these are the ones she brought from the city, or replacement Persians — will go to Loretta, her caretaker. (My mother told me yesterday that Guy Ruth once told her that she fed her cats out of crystal bowls, and sometimes gave them “breakfast in bed” — her bed.) It turns out that Cousin Guy, knowing that I like to cook, left me in her will half of her Le Creuset enamelware cooking set (my cousin Daniel, a professional chef, got the other half). If you like to cook, you know what a treasure this is. I went up yesterday to pick the pots up.

There were eleven pieces! Really nice ones. Guy Ruth was not the home cooking type. They look like they had barely been used. I was so grateful to her. I also found in her things the photo above, of us. It’s now on my fridge.

I couldn’t stand to wait another day to cook in Guy Ruth’s Le Creuset. I bought a chuck roast at the store this afternoon, larded it with smoked bacon, salted and peppered it, and nestled it onto a bed of thinly sliced onions. Here it is just before it went into a slow oven. As I write this, my house is perfumed by the aroma of gently roasting beef, a gift of Cousin Guy. I will use these pots and pans for the rest of my life, and think of her and pray for her every single time. And when I pass, the Le Creuset will go down to my daughter, who already loves to cook. I will teach her to think kindly of Cousin Guy, and to pray for her, every time she takes the bright orange cookware out of the cabinet.

A whole world died with Cousin Guy. RIP.

UPDATE: Just out of the oven, and so tender you don’t need a knife:

29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "Guy Ruth"

#1 Comment By midtown On May 14, 2018 @ 8:48 pm

Beautiful post, Rod. I hope Guy has found Ted now.

#2 Comment By Bill Cobbet On May 14, 2018 @ 9:05 pm


#3 Comment By Beth On May 14, 2018 @ 9:07 pm

She sounds like a real classic, and so typical of New Orleans. May she Rest In Peace.

#4 Comment By La Lubu On May 14, 2018 @ 9:20 pm

What a treasure! Le Creuset! Enjoy.

#5 Comment By GregR On May 14, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

Every time I break out my wife’s grandmothers Le Creuset pots and pans she tears up just a bit… She claims it is the seasoning, I think it is the memories. Either way, to me it is this type of family heirloom I treasure the most. Not something that has to be hung on the wall collecting dust, but cookware that gets used daily.

Just tonight my wife was crying while I cooked up some blackened trout… She still swears it is the pepper.

#6 Comment By anon On May 15, 2018 @ 12:11 am

A real human being…may her Memory be Eternal!

#7 Comment By John Feanklin On May 15, 2018 @ 12:54 am

Sorry about your loss Rod. You should really lay off the meat!

#8 Comment By William Murphy On May 15, 2018 @ 5:17 am

What a wonderful obituary, Rod. One to add to my collection of funny and poignant tributes to truly unusual characters.

As you love food and cooking so much, you might particularly enjoy the obituary of our own Canon Brian Brindley. He was an ultra-high Anglican clergyman who lived about three miles from my home. Brian was as bent as a three dollar note, as per so many High Church clergy. But you would forgive him almost anything for the riotously funny obituaries which his death provoked. He expired in the middle of a seven course banquet at a London club. Accounts of his life and death vary, which only added to the fun. As the “Telegraph” version had it:

“….he suffered a heart attack between the dressed crab and the beouf en croute”


#9 Comment By Pogonip On May 15, 2018 @ 5:55 am

Condolences, Rod.

Couldn’t help but contrast this with the many posts I’ve seen on liberal sites that Aunt Soandso or Best Friend For Thirty Years “is dead to me” because the person dissed Hillary or voted for Trump (the two greatest crimes mentioned) or departed from the party line in some other manner.

#10 Comment By JonF On May 15, 2018 @ 6:33 am

My sympathies to you and your family. Every family should have an eccentric, pretentious (but not mean) or otherwise oddball relative. I sometimes think I’m that person for my kin.

#11 Comment By Ryan Booth On May 15, 2018 @ 7:21 am

And you didn’t even invite me over to eat it.

#12 Comment By grumpy realist On May 15, 2018 @ 7:34 am

A bravura lady! May she rest in peace.

And remember–no one truly dies while his (her) name is still spoken. (Thank you, PTerry!)

#13 Comment By Remington40x On May 15, 2018 @ 9:00 am

So sorry for your loss. She sounds like she was quite a pistol and would have been a lot of fun to be around.

I’m sure you’ll think of her every time you use that cookware. Given your love of food, she couldn’t have left you a better legacy.

#14 Comment By yenwoda On May 15, 2018 @ 9:16 am

Lovely remembrance. Condolences.

#15 Comment By Caroline Nina in DC On May 15, 2018 @ 9:34 am

May her memory be eternal.

More posts for these kinds of stories, amid the gloom!

#16 Comment By Sam M On May 15, 2018 @ 10:12 am

What a nice tribute. Well done.

“You should really lay off the meat!”

False. Guy Ruth has passed and bequeathed Le Creuset. Meat was in order yesterday.

On a more serious note, it’s interesting to consider the role that eccentrics like Guy Ruth could/should play in a BenOp family. I come from a large Catholic family. Large enough that we had all manner of black sheep and wild cards and all the rest. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

#17 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 15, 2018 @ 10:32 am

Sorry for your loss, Rod. She sounds like quite a personality, and every family’s better off for having someone like that. I hope she’s in a better place now.

#18 Comment By Nancy T Wang On May 15, 2018 @ 10:53 am

A true Southern legend, the type that only the South can produce. May the great lady rest in peace. Thank you for the beautiful tribute, and for letting us get to know her a little bit.

#19 Comment By Hunk Hondo On May 15, 2018 @ 11:32 am

Very Sorry to hear this, Rod. This post was a lovely tribute to her memory.

#20 Comment By M_Young On May 15, 2018 @ 12:34 pm

Well, this gives me an opportunity to announce my father’s passing. He died early Sunday morning, 6 May. He went from being raised in near shanty conditions in Bay Ridge Brooklyn to a house overlooking the Pacific. Served his country aboard the USS Missouri in Korea, and as a longtime worker and manager for US Naval Shipyards. Raised five kids in turbulent times, brought the family out to California per necessity (closing of the Brooklyn Naval Shipyard), and gave us the best of lives at a time California really did hold promise.

Sacrificed a lot too … my parents slept on a pullout couch in our living room until my oldest sister left for college, but we all had piano lessons and Little League and all the other stuff parents did.

Capped his career at the shipyard by being the number 2 planner when BB63 was refitted for Reagan’s 600 ship navy, and post retirement dabbled in Real Estate and even worked for a Private Investigator. Despite an Alzheimer’s diagnosis two and a half years ago, he kept up a daily routine of cooking his breakfast, sweeping the floors, vacuuming the rugs, tending his garden and lawn (in an area most 50 year olds hire ‘undocumented’ to do that last bit).

A true exemplar of the Silent Generation…William Henry Young also took a world with him when he passed on.

[NFR: I am very sorry to hear this. May God comfort those who mourn. — RD]

#21 Comment By M_Young On May 15, 2018 @ 12:40 pm

An 11 piece Le Creuset has got to run north of $500…lucky you!
And poor caretaker who now has to take care of Persian cats.

#22 Comment By Locksley On May 15, 2018 @ 1:27 pm

One of the best articles you have written, Mr Dreher. I read it aloud over the telephone to a friend who likes Louisiana a lot, and he says he has some Le Creuset too, and that you are lucky to inherit so much of it. I loved the account of your cousin’s rescue from the flood waters. What a jewel of a lady! Requiescat in pace.

#23 Comment By Anne On May 15, 2018 @ 3:51 pm

May the Lord bless and keep Rod’s unforgettable cousin, Guy Ruth, as well as the steadfast William Henry Young, and all who mourn their passing.

#24 Comment By JonF On May 15, 2018 @ 4:16 pm

My sympathies to you and yours as well, M_Young.

#25 Comment By mrscracker On May 15, 2018 @ 5:28 pm

Please accept my prayers & sympathy for your family’s loss.
Having a loved one’s pots & pans is a wonderful way to remember them daily.
I have a number of things in my kitchen that belonged to my great grandma, grandma, & my mother.
I think of them every time I pick up a spoon, rolling pin, or my grandma’s cast iron “spider.”
(The pot roast in your photo looks very nice.)

#26 Comment By Bernie On May 15, 2018 @ 6:37 pm


You and your family have my condolences on the death of your father. Both of my parents have passed away and their passing put me in touch with the fact that there is no love as unconditional in this world as that of good, loving parents.

#27 Comment By mrscracker On May 16, 2018 @ 9:49 am

I remember my mama sleeping on the sofa when we were short on beds, too.
God bless parents for all their sacrifices!
God bless your daddy, too. May he rest in peace.

#28 Comment By M_Young On May 16, 2018 @ 2:17 pm

Thanks for all the condolences from readers here, and of course condolences for loss of Guy Ruth. I’m going to BevMo today for a bottle of J&B!

I will say that even though my father was not a religious man, the local Lutheran church (the denomination into which he was baptized and confirmed) was great about both having a pastor come and pray over him (and with us) as he was dying, and being willing to host a memorial (mostly at his sister’s, my aunt’s, desire).

Religion can be quite comforting at trying times — maybe there’s something to it!

#29 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On May 16, 2018 @ 7:24 pm


I’m sorry to hear about your father- may he rest in peace.