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Ruth Elizabeth "Billie" Dunn

October 10, 2009|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Ruth Elizabeth "Billie" Dunn, who died Oct. 2 at the age of 85. Her obituary was published in the Oct. 4 edition of The Herald-Mail.

By the time Ted Dunn came along, his mother and father had three daughters and were experienced parents.

But as Ted confessed, he was a challenge -- being the youngest and a boy, after all.

"I remember running my hand through a glass door once when we lived in Smithsburg," Ted said by telephone. His mother, Billie Dunn, took him to the doctor, who lived four doors away and had an office in his home.

The whole time the doctor was working on Ted's injuries, Billie made him focus on her face rather than on his arm while it was being sutured.

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"I did what mother said, only looking at my arm once," Ted said. And he remembered he was sorry he had.

Ted thanked her for that and for many other things, including many memorable vacations in her beloved home state of Maine over the years.

"I got my love of water from my mom," he said.

Still active right up through Labor Day this year, Billie had lobsters from Maine flown in to Hagerstown for a family get-together held on daughter Sue Suder's patio in Holiday Acres.

An avid bowler, Billie continued to go to Turner Lanes on Dual Highway even after she no longer could bowl so she could visit with her friends.

Oldest daughter Dee Harne said her mother and father, Willie, were married in 1945 when he still was in the U.S. Navy, right at the end of World War II.

"Dad told us he saw two pretty girls in a car in Winter Harbor, Maine, and he went over to talk with our mom," Dee said.

At first, the attraction was quite one-sided, said Judy Barnes, the couple's second daughter.

"Mom thought he was a character and she didn't like him," Judy said.

After a series of dances at the naval base nearby, an attraction developed and then, as often happened in wartime, the relationship quickly moved to marriage.

"They were married at 3 p.m. in her home," Judy said. "At 5 p.m. that day, she was on a train to Martinsburg, W.Va., with dad's family."

Willie was on his way to Guam, where he was stationed when the war came to an end a short time later.

Dee said the family used to joke that the enemy heard Willie Dunn was coming and ended the war early.

Reunited in Martinsburg, the couple began their family while Willie worked as a field representative for the Social Security Administration.

"All three of us girls were born in Martinsburg," Dee said.

The job took the family to Wheeling, W.Va., then to Cumberland, Md., where Ted was born.

The Dunn family eventually moved to Smithsburg, where they lived in a house that Willie built. They later moved across the street to a larger house.

Billie stayed in that house after Willie died in 1986. Then, four years ago, she moved into a one-story retirement home in Hagerstown's North End.

Spouses, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren learned to "get" Billie's special brand of humor. Judy said her mother often chuckled that some didn't know when she was kidding.

"She'd say you just don't get my humor," Judy said.

The family has continued to stay close and vacation together in Maine.

"It is so quiet there that you can actually hear one mosquito," Judy said.

During the summer of 2010, the family will gather there again for a vacation combined with a final bittersweet task, just for Billie.

"We're going to take her ashes up to Maine," Judy said.

After all, Billie always was ready to go back to Maine, and so she will -- one last time.

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