The sudden death of Walter Ruby

Ruby home at 138 W. Walnut

The sudden death of Walter Ruby

On July 22, 1939, Stan was in the bathroom shaving—having just received his first razor and shaving kit for his 15th birthday three days before. He was in a good mood, because he was still expecting a wonderful gift that he had been promised but hadn’t yet arrived.

His father had gone to the office earlier that day. Joan was already off at college at New York University. Suddenly the doorbell rang and he heard his mother go to answer it. She opened the door and then Stan heard a man identify himself as a police officer and gravely inform Selma that her husband, Walter Ruby, had been found dead in his office in Manhattan a short time before.

Stan recalled that upon hearing those horrible, incomprehensible words, the first thing that went through his mind was, “Damn, now I won’t get that present after all.” An instant later, he comprehended the enormity of what had just occurred; the father he idolized and adored was gone forever.

He was eaten up by enormous guilt at his initial thought, and that guilt would consume him for years to come. In the weeks and months ahead, he would also be consumed with anger, which perhaps he might have felt at his vigorous, dynamic 45-year-old father for disappearing so abruptly and without warning from an apparent heart attack in the prime of life, but which he instead focused on Judaism.

He was furious at being forced to go through what he considered the “barbaric” custom of going to his father’s grave every day for a year to say kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead. As a result of the need to say kaddish, he was not able to play that year on the high school football team, something he had set his mind on (The following year, he would be a star tackle on the varsity team, one of the few Jewish kids on a team mainly filled with a lot of Irish and Italian boys).

In any event, one consequence of Stan’s life-altering loss of his father and the aftermath of the event is that it created in him a deep distaste for organized religion in general and Judaism in particular.