RUTH IRELAN KNEE
Remarks by Nick Miller
Washington National Cathedral
November 14, 2008
My name is Nick Miller. My cousin, Ruth IRELAN KNEE, died on October 8th and I have been asked by the family to welcome all of you and to thank you for coming today to remember Ruth
KNEE and to celebrate her extraordinary life.
Ruth Knee and I were not related by blood. I first came to know Cousin Ruth in 1964, when I married Mary Anne DAUBIN, Ruth's first cousin. Ruth's mother, Daisy DAUBIN IRELAN, was Mary Anne's aunt, the older sister of her father. My late wife's father, Meredith DAUBIN, used to say, "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives." Ruth and I may not have been related by blood, but we were related by marriage and—even more closely—related by a friendship that deepened over the course of more than four decades.
Today we are here not to grieve but to remember Ruth IRELAND KNEE and to celebrate the life of a truly remarkable woman. Ruth KNEE had a long and fruitful life. She was 88 years-old when she died. But it is not the span of 88 years that we celebrate but what she did during those 88 years—the ways she enriched the lives of others and the ways she touched our lives.
Ruth was a pioneer in the field of Social Work as applied to Health Care. It's no wonder since Ruth's origins were in the American heartland—where her parents were true pioneers—and the story of Ruth KNEE is an unusual American story.
Ruth Ella IRELAN was born in Sapulpa, Oklahoma in 1920—only 13 years after the Oklahoma Territory was merged with what was known as Indian Territory to become the state of OKLAHOMA. Ruth's mother, Daisy Dye DAUBIN, married Oren Miller IRELAN in Lamar, Missouri, in 1905 and went to live in Oklahoma Indian Territory—home to the so-called Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Seminoles, (as well as to the Osage, Otoe, Caddo, Pawnees, Comanche, and other Native American peoples who had been driven from their lands and brought there by tragic forced march in what came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
Oren and Daisy IRELAN were well-known and influential people in the town of Sapulpa: Oren was the publisher of Sapulpa's first newspaper, the Sapulpa Light—at first a weekly and then a daily newspaper—and, later, the Sapulpa Herald—the main newspaper in Sapulpa today.
Oren and Daisy also helped found the first church in Sapulpa and Daisy became a pillar in the W.C.T.U. (Women's Christian Temperance Union—a national organization that still exists to fight against the evils of drink. Ruth didn't quite see eye-to-eye with her mother on that issue.
After graduating from Sapulpa High School, Ruth IRELAN attended the University of Oklahoma and graduated with honors in 1941 and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. She then went to the University of Chicago to obtain a Master of Arts degree from its renowned School of Social Service Administration. In 1943 she married fellow Oklahoman, Junior Koenig KNEE.
Junior Knee, was the son of highly respected physician L.C. Knee, a pioneer of the earliest days of Lawton, Oklahoma. (Dr. Knee—who was acquainted with famed outlaw, Jesse James, and his brother, Frank—once spent months, together with two comrades, searching for a two-million dollar treasure, rumored to have been buried by the James brothers in the Wichita Mountains country, near the town of Apache, Oklahoma. Although he unearthed clues to the buried cache, L.C. Knee, finally gave up in disgust after spending nearly $4,000 on the search.)
Junior Knee, also a graduate of the University of Oklahoma, held a master's degree in Public Health. Right after their marriage Ruth and Junior moved to wartime Washington, DC, where they began working with the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), where Ruth became one of its first psychiatric social workers, and later coordinated the work of the Public Health Service with the National Institute of Mental Health and Walter Reed Hospital. Before her retirement in 1973, after a thirty-year career in government, Ruth directed Public Health Service programs in long-term care.
Ruth Knee was a founder of the National Association of Social Workers, served two terms on its Board of Directors, and over the years served also on numerous committees, councils, task forces, and planning groups. She was co-founder of the association's Social Work Pioneers program to honor contributions to the profession. The NASW Foundation Knee /Wittman Health & Mental Health Achievement awards were named partly in her honor.
After her retirement from Government in 1973, after 30 years of service, Ruth Knee continued to be active in social work and health advocacy groups and was a consultant to federal agencies and private groups. After her beloved husband, Junior Knee, died in 1981, she continued to work tirelessly to improve the regulation of mental hospitals and nursing homes for aged.
Ruth Knee became one of the first women admitted to membership in Washington's prestigious Cosmos Club, when, in 1988—after 110 years as an all-male enclave—it decided to admit the fairer sex. She served on committees of the Cosmos Club, of the Washington National Cathedral, the Phi Beta Kappa, and the Women's Democratic Club. She also managed to find time to author articles and books with such catchy titles as, "The Rise of Social Work in Public Mental Health through Aftercare of People with Serious Mental Illness."
Ruth's dedicated and ground-breaking work in the fields of Social Work and Public Health did not fail to receive recognition. She became the recipient of numerous awards and honors. Yet Ruth continued to remain Ruth. Back in the days, when eager young rustics were descending upon the great cities in search of fame and fortune, it used to be said that you could take the boy out of the country but you couldn't take the country out of the boy. Well, you could take Ruth out of Oklahoma, but Cousin Ruth remained a proud Oklahoman all of her life. She continued to receive and read the Sapulpa newspapers and other Oklahoma publications, maintained contact with old friends in Oklahoma, and was an avid follower of the Sooners, University of Oklahoma football team. Her home on Arlington Boulevard, in Fairfax, went by the name of Oakie Acres.
Because of Oklahoma's large Indian population (the largest in the nation) Ruth was always greatly interested and concerned with the welfare of Native Americans. But then again, Ruth's was concerned about the welfare of all Americans. Her life was one of service and dedication to her fellow man:
That's what she was about and that was why she became a social worker. She was a fervent believer in democracy and in civil rights and human rights for all people: for people of all races, all religions. For minorities and immigrants for sick people, for old people, for people who were mentally ill. Not only did she work on their behalf, she also donated her time and made financial contributions to what she many good causes.
At the same time, Ruth was always interested in family, always provided an attentive and sympathetic ear, and was a sounding board for discussion of family matters. When my in-laws, Meredith and Martha Belle DAUBIN passed away, Ruth became the matriarch of the far-flung DAUBIN family, with whom she maintained personal contact by phone and email. We always looked forward to Ruth's annual Christmas letter from the Little People of Oakie Acres, which, in addition to her family news and news about her beloved dogs, most recently: Nadia and Noodles, she also wrote about the small animals—squirrels, raccoons, possum, chipmunks—that lived on her land, while often making humorous asides on national and world affairs.
Ruth had a lively interest in what was going on in the world, in the country, and around the corner. She loved a good political discussion. I'm sorry Ruth died before the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. She would have been delighted to see America rise above its prejudices to elect a man of color—with so foreign sounding a name—as President of the United States.
So our dear Cousin Ruth is no longer with us. Not only was she a refined, educated, and compassionate woman, she was an institution—dynamic and greatly involved with the many things that interested her. To us she seemed perennial and indestructible. It is hard to imagine that she will not be there to contribute her charm and wit to long discussions on family, on politics, on ethics, and on the state of the world.
Lucretius, writing 2200 years ago, said that we are not given the gift of life; it is only a
loan. I would put it another way:
We and our loved ones are all on loan to one another. So we must be grateful for the time we have together and make the most of it. We, Ruth's family, are, indeed, grateful for the time we had with Cousin Ruth Knee.
Ruth, who traveled the length and breadth of this country in her work, will make one final trip when her ashes are laid to rest in Highland cemetery, in Lawton, Oklahoma—where she already has a place reserved next to Junior—in the Knee family plot, where Junior's father, Dr. LC Knee, and his German-born mother, Anna Koenig Knee, are also buried.
We, Ruth's family, will sorely miss her wisdom, her attentive understanding, her humor, her charm, and her love.