Ruth Williamson Ripley, a woman of great style, substance, and business acumen which helped found a highly successful real estate firm in Middleburg, Virginia, died on November 17, 2020, at her home on Reed Street in the village.
Her son, Phillip Thomas Jr., said the cause of death was congestive heart failure. She was 80.
Ironically, Ms. Ripley’s life was in jeopardy in 1970 when she discovered that she had been born with a potentially fatal atrial septal defect. The malady was discovered purely by chance, but she underwent successful open-heart surgery at Georgetown University Hospital in 1971. It was performed by heart surgery pioneer Charles Hufnagel, who invented the first artificial heart valve.
She often told friends and family that Dr. Hufnagel had given her a new lease on life, and it made her appreciate every day since even more.
On February 9, 1940, Mrs. Ripley was born in Dallas, Texas, to Alice Neill Williamson and Richard Wallis Williamson. Her father was originally from England but ended up in Texas, traveling the world selling Texas cotton. She grew up in the Dallas suburb of Highland Park on Turtle Creek, and a lifelong love of animals and nature first took hold when she started feeding the ducks flocking around the creek near her home.
She graduated from Highland Park High School, where she was on the tennis team and, like her mother, attended Randolph-Macon College in Lynchburg, Virginia. While at Randolph-Macon, she met Middleburg native Phillip Thomas, a Marine veteran and a student at nearby Lynchburg College.
They both left school when Ms. Williamson was 19 to get married in Dallas in 1959, initially living in Fairfax before moving to a house off Snickersville Pike, and then to Philomont.
The marriage ended in divorce in the early 1970s, and not long after, she went into the real estate business with her friend, Carole Miller. Together, they formed Middleburg Country Properties, initially with an office above the kitchen store next to the Middleburg Safeway.
She and Ms. Miller merged their business with Gloria Armfield’s company and formed the firm of Armfield, Miller & Ripley, which later was sold to Washington Fine Properties. Ms. Ripley never did officially retire, and her last listing and sale were made last year with her friend and real estate partner Lynn Wiley, selling a house for her friends John and Lynne Donovan on Rock Hill Mill Road.
An adventurous traveler, she frequently went on trips abroad with her friend, the late Gail Matheson. Ms. Ripley also owned a home in Akumal, Mexico, where she learned and loved to scuba dive.
She went foxhunting in Ireland and once took a trip to drive carriages in England with her second husband, Fred Miller. On that same journey, she was riding up the Long Walk at Windsor Castle when her horse spooked, throwing her to the ground and resulting in a broken collarbone.
Ms. Ripley enjoyed skiing with her two sons and was an enthusiastic tennis player and a longtime member of the Middleburg Tennis Club. She was an avid gardener, often creating gorgeous flower arrangements from her own gardens. She was particularly fond of orchids.
Ms. Ripley was known for her sense of style and comfortable grace, including wearing brightly colored scarves and pashminas. Her homes were an eclectic collection of antiques, unique items and always featured paintings by her good friend, renowned Middleburg artist Robin Hill.
Over the years, Ms. Ripley doted on her numerous dogs and cats, many of them she adopted, and some adopted her. She always had multiple bird feeders around her home and often fed peanuts to neighborhood squirrels, some of whom knew to come to the door every morning.
She also was known as an excellent cook who hardly ever bothered with recipes. She enjoyed making and sampling adventurous new dishes, often with friends and family at holidays, dinner parties, and in the kitchen with a glass of wine nearby.
Ms. Ripley was active in the Middleburg community, serving on the board of The Hill School. She was a senior warden and longtime member of the Flower Guild at Trinity Church in Upperville. She also frequently helped friends and family arrange flowers for weddings and funerals.
She was a member of several local garden clubs, including the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club, Piedmont Garden Club, and the Middleburg Garden Club.
She was a founding member of the Hill School Ski Club. Instead of socializing with other parents in the ski lodge at Bryce Mountain, where students skied every winter Friday afternoon, Ms. Ripley took ski lessons herself. She skied with her sons at Bryce and enjoyed trips with them and her good friends Doris and Peter Weeks to ski more challenging mountains out west.
Of all her many interests, Ms. Ripley’s favorite role was as a loving grandmother to her four grandchildren.
Ms. Williamson is survived by her two sons, Richard Reed Thomas of Birmingham, Alabama, and Phillip Swing Thomas, Jr. of Washington, D.C.; a sister, Isabel W. Griffith of Newport R.I. and a brother, Richard W. Williamson of Dallas Texas; grandchildren Richard Reed Thomas, Jr., Bailey Mara Thomas, Suzelle Margaret Swing Thomas, and Williamson Carl Thomas; two nephews and a niece.
A celebration of her life will be held at Trinity Church in the spring, with a date still to be determined. Donations in her name should be made to the rector’s discretionary fund at Trinity.