By Liz Balmaseda
The Palm Beach Post
One morning in March, Ruth McBride stepped out of bed and onto an unexpected disaster: pools of water all over the floor of her apartment. The hot water heater had burst and flooded the place. McBride had no one to call, so she called 911.
The Palm Beach Gardens Police officers who responded found more than a busted appliance — they found a 94-year-old widow living alone with her small Yorkie in a home she was unable to clean.
They called in Det. Jennifer Brashear, an 18-year veteran of the force whose caseload includes everything from abused children to neglected elderly people.
Brashear quickly assessed the distressed nonagenarian: Ruth wasn’t a hoarder or an unkempt woman. But she couldn’t see very well and was having a hard time tending to the skin-cancer wounds on both of her legs. Her caregiver had run out and so had most of the funds her late daughter had set apart for her care.
The detective called Ruth’s landlord, who came to fix the water heater. One of Ruth’s neighbors offered to have the apartment cleaned up at her own expense. The detective also called the Florida Department of Children and Families. But the state found Ruth was of sound mind and able to function on her own, says Brashear.
“The problem is she has no one left in the world. She’s completely on her own,” says Brashear, 44.
So the detective adopted the nonagenarian. When she realized Ruth’s $1,500 monthly Social Security check did not cover the rent and utilities, much less groceries and other essentials, Brashear pitched in to make up the difference. Brashear also enlisted Teri Moran of the Connor Moran Cancer Foundation to help Ruth secure proper home health assistance and other benefits.
Together they came to the conclusion that it would be best for Ruth to remain in the apartment she knows so well and is within easy reach of the handful of people who help the widow when they can.
Plus, if Ruth were to be moved to a home or assisted living facility, she might have to part with her beloved pup — that alone would kill her, says Brashear.
The detective is not one to walk away from a soul in need. Some years ago, after investigating a sexual abuse case, she adopted an abandoned baby. The child is now part of Brashear and her husband’s blended family, which includes eight kids.
In 2017, the detective’s charitable works earned her the title of “Police Officer of the Year” from the Palm Beach County Association of Chiefs of Police.
But there was something particularly remarkable about Ruth that drew her in from Day 1, says Brashear: her sunny disposition.
Here was a woman who had outlived all of her friends and family, who had lost her daughter to a sudden stroke in 2017 and who was slowly losing her vision, yet she pulled herself together every morning, dabbed on the “Blushing Berry” lipstick that she stores in the fridge, brushed out her thin, wavy locks, which she wears a bright shade of auburn, just like her pup Lily.
Ruth is unsinkable, Brashear said on a recent day, recounting the story in the widow’s dining room.
“Well, nobody likes a grump,” Ruth chimed in. “I lost everything and everybody. But people don’t like bitter people.”
Lily was draped on Ruth’s lap like a stole. The 3-year-old pup is Ruth’s trusted companion and pampered doll. Ruth wakes her up each morning with a mini-facial — she runs cotton balls under warm water and uses them to clean Lily’s eyes and snout. She feeds the pup bits of her own rotisserie chicken or turkey at lunch, and keeps strategically placed doggie training pads on the floor for Lily to use. She can’t afford to take her to the vet or to the groomer, but she dotes on her as best as she can. The dog is energetic and clearly adored.
Ruth saw something special in Brashear as well, though she couldn’t quite remember the detective’s first name, Jennifer. She called her “Steph,” and still does. A few days after the water-heater incident, Ruth dialed 911 to leave a message for her new friend.
“She tells the operator, ‘I ran out of cornflakes and milk. Please tell Steph.’ And they’re like, ‘Who’s Steph?’” Brashear recalled later.
Cereal and milk are now fixtures on the detective’s grocery list, as are staples like canned baked beans, Folgers Medium Roast coffee, rotisserie chicken and biscuits.
Helping the widow is not as much of a selfless act as it may seem, says Brashear.
“The truth is she helps me. She’s always in a good mood, no matter what she may be going through. She really inspires me,” says Brashear. “Sometimes I’ve had a bad day and I come by to see Ruth, and she puts everything back to normal.”
Born in Greenville, Pennsylvania, Ruth moved to Tequesta in 1967 because her husband’s company had an office there. They raised a daughter who grew up to be an attorney in Texas. Ruth lost them both in recent years. Her husband, L.C. McBride, died suddenly in June 2003 at age 83; her daughter Kathy died in May 2017, days after suffering a stroke.
Throughout her working years, Ruth managed a loan department at a bank and also helped run her husband’s manufacturing business, which produced pizza boxes. And while she never made a financial plan for living into her 90s, she attributes her longevity to the fact that she just keeps moving.
“I’ve always kept active. I never sit on my butt, in a chair. There’s no secret — just get off your butt and do your thing,” she says.
Memories of those years are now adrift in the small Palm Beach Gardens apartment where Ruth has lived for five years and where she spends her days watching TV or listening to old standards on Legends Radio 100.3 — and pampering Lily.
“We get up to dance around sometimes, don’t we?” she says to the pup on her lap. The dog stretches a paw across Ruth’s lap.
At age 94, Ruth McBride has outlived all of her loved ones. Battling skin cancer and advanced macular degeneration, she lives alone with her beloved Yorkie in a Palm Beach Gardens rental apartment. Her Social Security check does not cover her monthly expenses, which include rent, utilities, food and other supplies. Ruth needs help paying her monthly expenses, which include utilities and medical costs not covered by Medicare. She could use supermarket gift cards for her food and personal supplies. A small Mr. Coffee coffeemaker and easy-to-work microwave and toaster ovens would help her greatly at mealtime, as she is visually impaired. A woman who takes pride in her appearance, she speaks often of getting her hair done — it would delight her. Ruth also would love additional doggie pads for her pup Lily, who needs visits to the vet and a groomer.
Nominating agency: Connor Moran Cancer Foundation.
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