Honoring a Best Friend –
Henry Winter remembers his wife, Ruth
Henry Winter is no stranger to bravery.
In WWII he was a bomber pilot, and his service was recognized with the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross and other medals that hang, framed, on the wall of his Horsham home.
But perhaps his bravest act occurred when he returned from the war and, high atop the Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco, he proposed to Ruth Beal.
“I told her, ‘If you don’t marry me, I’ll jump out the window!’” Henry recalls with a laugh. “That was the tallest building in San Francisco at the time. Fortunately I couldn’t get the window open. And, more fortunately, she said yes!”
Henry first met Ruth when he was stationed at an airfield near her home in Caribou, Maine. A friend introduced them one night in the officer’s club. They hit it off, but within weeks, duty pulled him away to Asia.
“I thought I’d never see her again,” says Henry. “But when I made it back home from the war, I came through San Francisco and some guys said, ‘Hey, you know, Ruth Beal’s here!’”
Ruth had decided to make a change from teaching in Caribou and had moved to San Francisco. Henry gave her a call, they had their fateful rendezvous atop the Mark Hopkins, and it wasn’t long before they were married at Ruth’s church in Caribou.
Ruth passed away in 2009 at the age of 89, and is now buried at that same church. To honor her memory, Henry and his family have made a major gift to Abington Memorial Hospital. In recognition of their gift, the hospital named a Widener Building courtyard, beautifully landscaped with plantings and sculpture, The Ruth Winter Garden.
“Gardening was big for us,” says Henry. “I was a good digger, but it was Ruth who was the real gardener.” Henry’s charitable support will help the hospital create a new bi-plane angiography lab for stroke care. It adds to the Winter’s significant legacy of giving over the years that includes support for the Lenfest Pavilion, the Toll Pavilion and the helipad atop the Pennock Emergency Trauma Center.
“Abington has been our hospital for a long time,” says Henry. “Both of our sons were born there and Ruth and I had our own care there. It’s a special place, a patient-oriented place. It feels different from other hospitals.”
Henry also recalls fondly the many donor events he and Ruth enjoyed together, including President’s Council Dinners and June Fete Galas. “Ruth loved dressing up and going to those galas,” he says. “They were riotous parties!”
Soul mates and best friends
Henry says that he and Ruth were soul mates in most regards, but when it came to athletic endeavors, they went their separate ways.
“Ruth was a superb skier,” he notes. “She was Olympic-level, but lost her chance to go to the Games in 1940 when they were cancelled. She skied until she was 80.
“Of course, I tried skiing. But I discovered I couldn’t do it in a physically indestructible manner. Instead, I was big on golf. So she skied, I golfed, and it was a perfect union!”
Henry’s life took a challenging road to arrive at that union. His father was deaf and his mother was blind, and Henry was a young child when his father died during the Depression. Henry entered Girard College – Philadelphia’s famed school for poor, orphaned children – where he lived from the age of six through high school.
As soon as he graduated he started working for a painting company (“My first paycheck was $13 – all of it went in the bank!”), then he got a job in the Philadelphia office of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. But by then the war was heating up, and Henry enlisted.
After returning from the war and marrying Ruth, he sold residential real estate for a few years before the opportunity opened to join with three others to start a mortgage company. Henry handled the finances and money management for the new Republic Mortgage Company, which focused on commercial and industrial real estate. The partners remained together for nearly 40 years before they divided the business and sold it.
Throughout those years, Henry was involved in a range of activities. He remained active in the Air Force, retiring in 1993; he participated in numerous business associations; and he served on the board of the Cedarbrook Country Club and as a member of the local school board.
But in recent years his most devoted service has been to Ruth. His love is clearly evident in her garden at Abington, where alongside the beautiful plantings stands a simple plaque that reads, “The Ruth Winter Garden – dedicated with love to an extraordinary wife, mother, grandmother and best friend.”