By early 1964, Ruth had left Parktown Girls’ High School, passed the matriculation examination and was preparing to go to Cape Town University to do a BA (Music) degree. I completed my ATCL practical singing diploma in October of 1963 and had started teaching my first pupils in Anne and Webster’s studio on the day they were not teaching there themselves. I put my teaching skills to further practical use by giving Ruth some harmony lessons so that she would be up to standard when she started her course in Cape Town. I knew I would miss her very much when she went to ‘Varsity, but she would be back for the July holidays and we had promised to write to each other.
Just before she left for Cape Town, I spent a happy day at her home in Parkwood. We swam in the kidney-shaped pool for the last time and later her mother took us for lunch to a pleasant tea garden in Bryanston which was quite rural in those days. The midday symphony concert was on the English Service of the SABC and I was impressed at Mrs Ormond’s ability to identify every composition correctly before the title was announced on the radio. I could see where Ruth had inherited her love of music.
Ruth settled down in the University residence of Baxter Hall. She was a good correspondent and told me about her singing lessons with Madame Adelaide Armhold. Madame Armhold wanted Ruth to concentrate on breathing exercises for the next six months.
In April, I passed my LTCL exam and obtained honours in the Higher Local Piano exam.
On Friday morning, 1 May 1964, I received a letter from Ruth. She had remained in Cape Town for the short Easter holidays and had celebrated her nineteenth birthday there on 6 April. The Easter holiday was short so it had hardly seemed worth her returning to Jo’burg when she had only just settled in at Baxter Hall. In her letter she told me, “Before you can cough it’ll be July and I’ll see you again.”
That evening I was going to sing at a concert with the Sylvia Sullivan Choristers. I was waiting for my lift when the phone rang. It was Ruth’s sister Caroline to tell me the awful and unbelievable news that Ruth had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage that morning and had died within an hour of developing an excruciating headache.
Ruth had always been fit and healthy. She had never missed a day at school. Stunned, I phoned Anne and Webster’s number and spoke to Webster. He was devastated with the news and could not talk for long. It was too late to put off the lift, so my parents had to make my excuses for I certainly was not in a fit state to sing at a concert that night. A short while later Anne phoned and she spent a long time on the phone talking to me about Ruth. We were deeply saddened at the loss of a very dear person. She had been like a sister to me.
I saw her mother several times after Ruth’s death. She gave me some of Ruth’s music, and the photograph that appears at the top of this post. It was taken shortly before Ruth went to Cape Town. Her parents established a memorial prize in her name at Cape Town University. Each year it is awarded to the most promising first year singing student.
After Ruth’s death my life became more somber and earnest. I was no longer a giddy naïve teenager. I had to grow up fast and face life as an adult. I have had little contact with the Ormonds over the years since Ruth’s death, but I will always remember Ruth as one of my dearest friends.
Jean Collen 22 April 2017.