Ruth Evelyn (Ulrich) Coffin
Jul 17, 1920 - Mar 7, 2017
- Ruth Evelyn Coffin, beloved wife of the late Hon. Frank M. Coffin, peacefully completed her earthly life on March 7, 2017, at the age of 96, in her home in South Portland, Maine. She was a cherished mother, adored grandmother, proud great-grandmother and treasured matriarch who extended her warmth and generosity to many beyond the Coffin family.
Born on July 17, 1920, in New York City, Ruth grew up in Bloomfield, New Jersey, the oldest of five siblings. She courageously ventured from New Jersey in 1938 to attend Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, a decision which she regarded as the most important of her life. There she met Frank, her husband-to-be, whom she married in 1942, settling in Lewiston to raise four children. She also fell permanently in love with the coast of Maine when she first visited the Coffin family cottage at South Harpswell. Her notion of family life expanded in the 1950s as her husband entered Maine politics and later served in all three branches of the federal government. Moves to Washington, D.C., Paris, France and then back to South Portland were anchored by annual summer stays at the family cottage.
A significant thought partner to her husband, as well as chief operating officer of the busy household, Ruth created many diverse and long-lasting relationships. She remained close to her four siblings, all of whom survive, and hosted at her oceanside home many of their annual reunions from 1973 through 2016. At Bates, she gloried in the relationships she found with her freshman dorm mates at Wilson House who remained lifelong friends. They met frequently, often in the Boston area when Ruth accompanied her husband to the monthly sessions of the First Circuit Court of Appeals. To South Portland, Ruth welcomed two American Field Service students for their senior years at South Portland High School, Maya Nayak Kamath of India and Titta Schultz of Finland. Frank and Ruth visited each of their home countries and hosted them and their family members on several visits to the United States.
Ruth also embraced the members of the federal and state judiciary as extended family. She developed long-lasting friendships with judges, clerks and their spouses at judicial conferences and during the times the court met in Boston. She welcomed many to the family home and summer cottage. For over thirty years, she accompanied her husband to court sessions held in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where they developed warm relationships within the judicial and legal community there. Her unique role as senior judicial spouse was acknowledged when she was dubbed the "First Lady of the First Circuit."
Ruth particularly cherished the group of nearly 70 law clerks who worked for the Judge during the 41 years he served. Extending her warm hospitality to these young lawyers, she created a true family "in law," known as the "Coffin Clever." She was instrumental in planning many outings with the Judge and his clerks, such as hikes, solstice celebrations, play readings, visits to the summer cottage, and picnics in Casco Bay on their modest power boat Sea Venture. Even after the Judge's death in 2009, Ruth maintained an active interest in their lives and continued to be in contact with them. Loyal both to the Judge and Ruth, the members of the Clever returned to Maine for frequent reunions, the most recent in 2015, at which they celebrated Ruth's 95th birthday. Ruth was a careful, empathetic listener who never tired of hearing from all she held dear.
For many years, Ruth volunteered in local organizations, such as Williston-Immanuel United Church and the Portland Museum of Fine Arts. She tried her hand at crafting silver jewelry and fashioned quilts for her grandchildren and many of the children of the law clerk Clever. Inspired by her time in Paris, she became an excellent cook, creating meals such as Spanish paella and the gourmet "Sea Venture Stew" served on the boat as she and her husband navigated the waters of the Maine coast. Not overshadowed by her husband's public speaking skills, Ruth offered her own spontaneous contributions, delivering heart-felt and playful remarks to to the delight of those at gatherings of family and clerks. She was a voracious and eclectic reader of books on tape from murder mysteries to history and biography, religions and science. To the end, she was a competitive player of Upwords and took great satisfaction in her numerous victories.
Always thrilled to welcome a new person into her life, Ruth delighted in the birth of her great-granddaughter, Hazel, in July 2015 and eagerly watched her development. Hazel visited her Bana numerous times, sat on her lap, and took rides on her rollator. Hazel spoke some of her first short sentences as she pointed out boats and birds she saw from the windows of her great-grandmother's bedroom.
Ruth was predeceased by her husband; her daughter-in-law, Janet Milley; and her son-in-law, Ed Babb. Her extraordinary presence, strength of character and positive outlook will continue to inspire all who survive her. Her memory will be cherished by her children, Nancy Kurtz of Medford, Massachusetts, Douglas Coffin and wife, Meg Haskell, of Stockton Springs, Maine, Meredith Coffin and husband, Daniel Hallett, of Freedom, Maine, and Susan Babb of West Newbury, Massachusetts; by her grandchildren, Esther Kurtz and husband, Ben Dicke, Adam Kurtz, Nathan Kurtz and partner, Michael Jao, Harpswell Coffin and husband, Ben Thompson, Sigrid Coffin and Morey Hallett; and by great-granddaughter, Hazel Jane Coffin.
A service in celebration of Ruth's life will be held on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at 2 p.m. at the Williston-Immanuel United Church, 156 High Street, Portland, Maine. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the University of Maine School of Law Foundation or to VNA Home Health Hospice of South Portland, Maine. Condolences may be expressed online at .