Ruth Augusta Nelson Badgett Smith of Riverhead died on June 2. She was 85.
Born on April 4, 1928, to Harry Nelson and Eunice Bess Nelson, she was the youngest of three sisters and younger than all but one of her eight brothers. Her siblings gave her the nickname “Toofy” because of her wide and easy smile. She graduated from Riverhead High School, where she was active in clubs and sports, including basketball. After high school, she was an apprentice beautician with Rose Booker on Flanders Road. While working under Ms. Booker, she met and then married William Adam Badgett of Great Neck on March 14, 1950. They had one son, Dr. David Badgett. After Mr. Badgett’s death in 1972, Ms. Smith married her childhood sweetheart, James W. Smith Sr. of the Shinnecock Nation, in 1975. She and her husband, known as “Dutch,” were married for 35 years before his death in 2010.
From 1952 to 2007, Ms. Smith owned and operated Ruthie’s Beauty Shop on Ludlam Avenue in Riverhead. The salon was a neighborhood gathering place and was often filled with laughter, gossip and advice. Ms. Smith mentored many others, as Ms. Booker did for her. She set the bar high for her proteges and often gave them the tools they’d need to set out on their own, her survivors said. She was very proud that Ruthie’s served the Riverhead community for more than 50 years thanks to her “unflappable work ethic, a commitment to serving others and an extraordinary business savvy,” they said.
Ms. Smith remained active throughout her life, riding her bike, exercising, operating her business, and raising her only son. She never turned down a request for assistance and often helped family, friends and others, her survivors said. She would spend time visiting the elderly and others who were overlooked, was known to offer her salon services free of charge for those in need, and contributed her time to Seay Memorial Chapel. Even with her busy schedule, she’d often find time to shoot hoops with her son after work or during a break.
Ms. Smith’s survivors said she cared deeply for her family, and raised or trained many of her nieces and nephews. She worked hard at instilling the value of hard work, education and “doing for yourself,” survivors said, finding small jobs for young people so they could give back to their community. Survivors said she seldom missed an opportunity to stop a car on her street and speak to the young people inside, usually imparting some wisdom whether or not they were ready to hear it. Survivors said she was an advocate for all, especially women, to empower themselves with an education and/or a trade. “Educate a woman and you educate a family,” was one of her sayings.
Her family said her life of service was a testament to her Christian faith. She was a lifetime member of the Women’s Home and Overseas Missionary Society of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. She was a lifelong member of Goodwill AME Church, where she sang in the choir, taught Sunday school and served on the Steward Board. “I wish I could get more of these kids into the church,” she would say, according to her family. Offering up catchy phrases for all sorts of situations, she would laugh at herself if she used one incorrectly and then retell it so the moral would fit the situation, her family said.
At Christmas, she would recite an animated version of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” which she knew in its entirety. She had a beautiful voice and would sometimes treat a friend or strangers to an impromptu performance of a favorite hymn or her rendition of “Misty.” She loved to travel and often visited her son in North Carolina and friends in California.
Ms. Smith is survived by her son, David, and many nieces, nephews and friends. She is also survived by a brother, Kenneth Nelson, and two sisters, Gladys Baskin and Mary Darden.
Funeral services were at Seay Memorial Chapel in Riverhead. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Lyme Disease Foundation at www.aldf.com.