Open home, big heart
Ruth Bailey's boys will miss her

by P.J. Harston
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 22/96) - Ruth Bailey was tough enough to stand up to an angry 200-pound drunk without blinking an eye. But she had a heart as kind as any angel's ever was, friends say.

One of the most generous women ever to settle north of 60 died early Wednesday morning in Fort Smith. She was 85.

Mrs. Bailey is survived by her husband, Rev. Gordon Bailey, her son, Ernie, and daughter, Agnes.

Best known in Yellowknife for her tireless work for the homeless, Mrs. Bailey first opened the couple's Latham Island home in the '70s to a near-frozen acquaintance passing through town. After that, she adopted an open-door policy for anyone who needed a safe haven on a bitter Northern night, offering them a meal and a home-made blanket.

"Word around town was that as long as you didn't mind a six-by-three-foot spot on the floor, you were always welcome at the Bailey house," said family friend Richard Feil.

He first met Mrs. Bailey in Yellowknife in 1970 when she and her husband were already known for spreading the word of God.

Mrs. Bailey's involvement with the Pentecostal church goes back much further than that.

Born in Winnipeg in 1911, she met her husband at a Pentecostal church camp in 1928. They were engaged in 1938 and married in Winnipeg three years later.

After marriage, they preached through Canada's prairies, ministering for a number of years in Grandview, Man., and briefly in central Alberta.

She and her husband first travelled north of 60 in 1958, settling in Fort Resolution, and carrying out mission work there for five years before moving to Yellowknife.

They relocated to the city's Old Town district in 1963, where they remained for 28 years, allowing their home to become what many in Yellowknife still believe was an "essential service."

Ruth and Gordon Bailey left Yellowknife for a more gentle climate in Fort Smith in 1991. Mrs. Bailey, who was 80 at the time, required better air to help keep her chronic asthma in check.

They lived alone for a year before moving into Northern Lights, a special care home for seniors.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Bailey took pains to help the homeless and less fortunate, and if she ever got angry it was with those who appeared not to care.

Such was Mrs. Bailey's renown, she figured prominently in a xxxYellowknifer editorial.

"For many years the Baileys opened their door and hearts to those without a roof over their heads. The couple took care of the 'boys,' as Ruth liked to call them," a June 16, 1993, editorial stated.

"The Bailey's departure left a huge gap in the city that no one else has stepped in to fill."

At the Bailey's 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 1991 -- which was covered by this newspaper -- Mrs. Bailey explained her and her husband's generosity.

"We've seen so many people freeze on the island that we decided to leave our door open and let people know they are welcome to come," she said. "Our love for the people has kept us here."

Friends say the work Mrs. Bailey and her husband carried out with dedication and love in Yellowknife has not been matched or even approached to this day.

"Her boys will miss her," said Feil.