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Ruby Linville always wore a smile, and even when she was sick, she reminded everyone how thankful she was for family.
She told everyone that her grandson Matthew was her “little sunshine” and how much she adored her granddaughter Fiona.
Even when she was at her weakest, she and husband James, also in ill health, visited nursing homes to pray with patients and sing gospel tunes.
Since 2005, the Galax couple regularly visited Golden Living Center, Waddell Nursing Home, Wheatland Hills, Eldercare of Hillsville and Grayson Nursing and Rehabilitation in Independence.
“We really got attached to the residents,” said James, who even visited on Christmas Day with Ruby. “Them and their families all tell us what a blessing we were.
“Everywhere she went, Ruby was loved by so many people.”
Others would know the Linvilles from their work at Brush Creek Grocery in Galax, managing A&M Grocery and when she owned Ruby's Market in Fries where she served breakfast and sold fresh produce.
Before Ruby, 51, passed away two weeks ago after a long battle with cancer, she wanted nothing more than to see her family all together one last time — a wish that everyone she knew wanted to make happen.
Her sisters-in-law — Wanda Marshall of Fries and Sherry Hooven of Galax — reached out to local churches for help, and they joined together to fly in Ruby's son Jamie and 7-year-old granddaughter Fiona from Montana for one last bittersweet reunion.
Jamie and his daughter had not seen Ruby in two years, but talked to her every night on the phone.
“These churches will never know what this kind gesture meant,” said James, as he searches for the words to say with tearful eyes.
Ruby's last request was granted with the help of the Church of God of Prophecy in Independence, Grace Baptist Church in Fries, Lighthouse Ministries in Pulaski and Camp Zion Church, First Assembly of God and Trinity Baptist Church, all of Galax.
Jamie and Fiona arrived on May 20, feeling overwhelmed, James described.
By the time they got to Galax, Ruby was blind because of the cancer.
“When she heard their voice, she raised her arms up to hug them,” he said. “It took all of her strength, but she hugged them, kissed them and cried, and said how much she loved them.”
For the Linvilles' daughter, April Durham of Fries, it was just as much a gift to her to see the joyous reunion.
“They were just glad to get back to see her,” said Durham.
Five days after the reunion, Ruby passed away.
When Ruby broke her hip in October 2007, the routine check-up led to a diagnosis of lung cancer. And in March 2008, a CAT scan read the happy news that she was in remission.
But in January this year, Ruby was diagnosed again and underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments after doctors found a brain tumor.
By the beginning of May, doctors had done all they could. They sent Ruby home, under the care of Twin County Hospice, to spend the rest of her days with her family.
Durham said the nurses took excellent care of Ruby and Dr. Chan and Dr. Savage of Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., went the extra mile to check on her.
“When they say someone you love has cancer, it's a day you don't forget,” said James, as his daughter nods in agreement, trying to hold back the tears. “You just go into a different world.”
Every night, James recalls, Ruby would kiss him on the cheek and say she loved him. Throughout their many, many years of marriage, they never spent one day apart, even sleeping by hospital bedsides.
"The morning she died, I told her 'If you hear that I love you, squeeze my hand,'' he recalls. “She did. For me, that's a miracle and a prayer answered.”
Durham said her mom's favorite song, “So Much to Thank Him For,” sums up the type of person she was.
“She would always say, 'I've come too far to look back,'” said Durham. “And 'If God doesn't heal me here, He'll heal me over there.'”
Though Ruby was sick, she never complained, but reminded others of the blessings in her life and took care of others. With many trips to the hospital in Winston-Salem, she would meet with other patients to pray with them.
When James suffered a heart attack last year, doctors thought he would never make it through his surgery.
“She never left my side,” he said. “She thought she was going to lose me, but God saw it through that I would be here to take care of her.”
“Mom and I spent so much time together, it brought us closer,” said Durham, admitting that she still catches herself peeking at the phone to call her mom. “It's hard to accept.”
As James, Durham and her 4-year-old son Matthew continue to pray for others with cancer, they remind each other every day that they'll see Ruby again one day.
“Papa, don't be sad. We'll see her in Heaven one day,” Matthew tells his grandpa. “She's all better now.”
“She's helped us through some tough times,” said Durham. “She was a special lady.”