Ross, Julia Naioma

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                               A MEMORABLE LIFE
                 Julia Ross, 90, Recounts meeting heroine of book while working in U. S.
                              by Cathy Carnahan


As Julia Naioma Ross prepares for her 90th birthday on Sunday, many fond memories come to mind.

The Tabusintac woman recalls serving dinner to the famous deaf and blind lecturer Helen Keller while working in New York in the late 1920s. "I remember she was a tall lady, and she had a pink satin dress on," Ross said in a recent interview. And while in Cambridge, Massachusetts she met Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, the heroine in a national bestselling book Cheaper by the Dozen. The book is a humorous account of Gilbreth's family life raising 12 children. It was written by Lillian's children Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, and sold over 3 million copies. Ross has autographed copies of it and another one they wrote, Belles on Their Toes.

Lillian Gilbreth, who died in Phoenix, Arizona in 1972 at 93, was a pioneer in the field of time-and-motion studies. She applied many of her concepts of industrial management to the running of her household and 12 children. It's been about 70 years since Ross met Gilbreth, but the visit is clearly etched in her mind.

Ross was working in the home of Professor Lewis Jerome and Grace Johnson when the doctor came to stay the night. Mrs. Johnson had an early appointment the next day and, "told me to prepare a nice breakfast tray, and as soon as I heard Dr. Gilbreth up, to take the tray up to her room," Ross said. "As soon as I heard her moving around, I got the coffee and toast ready, took it up to her room, knocked on her door and was surprised to see she was all ready with her hat on. I said good morning, apologized for being late, and gave her the breakfast tray which Mrs. Johnson had asked me to bring to her. Dr. Gilbreth said, 'Good morning,' and smiling very gently said, 'Oh, Grace, should not have done that.'” Ross remembers Gilbreth, not accustomed to having someone wait on her, then took the tray and went downstairs behind her. "I proceeded along the hall to the dining room door," said Ross, but Gilbreth didn't follow. Oh no, Julia, we will go the kitchen,' she said, and there Gilbreth sat down and ate breakfast.

"In her house everyone was taught to wait on themselves," she said. Ross, seated in the living room of her home, then unfolded a tiny, faded green handkerchief from a weathered envelope. It was a gift given to her by Gilbreth before she left that day. "She gave me that because I carried the tray up to her that morning," said the petite, old woman as she smiled. The handkerchief is one of several mementos she has of Gilbreth.

There are also several news-clippings, including one of Gilbreth presenting a medal to female flyer Amelia Earhart for her flight across the Atlantic. Copies of the newspaper clippings Ross received from her two sisters, who remained in the United States, have also been forwarded to Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, who is writing a biography of her mother. Carey wanted Ross to share memories of her visit with Gilbreth and she has. So has Ross's daughter, Mary Stokes, who met Gilbreth in London, Ontario on April 19, 1962.

Stokes and her siblings grew up fascinated by their mother's stories of her job as housekeeper-cook with artists, professors and business people who made significant contributions to society. When Stokes had the opportunity to get an autograph for her mother from Gilbreth, she was delighted. In a letter to Carey, she said, "The occasion is still a vivid memory. It was a great moment for me," she said in a letter to Carey. "My mother treasured the autograph and she gave it back to me in recent years."

The twinkle in Ross's eyes seemed to grow brighter as she and her daughter shared memories. In New Brunswick, Ross worked for the Ganong candy company at St. Stephen for several years. Souvenirs from there have also been kept and cherished. Among them is a letter she received from Whidden Ganong in 1991 updating her on changes to the company in recent years.

It's all rather fascinating to Ross, who was born in what she describes "the back woods of Grattan Settlement" at the Tabusintac and Neguac border. Her philosophy has always been to live life to the fullest, and now almost 90, she still takes a genuine interest in her' family and community. As she sat reminiscing, the sweet aroma of homemade chow filled her home. That had been her morning project.

Keeping busy key to long life

In 1929, Julia Naioma Ross married Frederick Galliah Ross of Tabusintac. They lived about four years in the United States, then returned to their home by the river. "We called it God's little acre," said Ross. They had nine children, two died as babies, and life was often difficult. Since 1972, Julia Ross has had four hip operations and in February, Fred Ross died. Still Julia Ross has no complaints. "I've had a full life. The key is keeping busy and not worrying. I learned that through one of my sick spells," she said. "And the Lord and his mother, Mary, I couldn't have lived without them. Give up worrying and give it to the Lord," she added. Ross then smiled as she remembered the many times her faith in Him came to fruition.

Memories of her life with the elite also still make her smile. "I used to tell the children. Let's pretend we're having a big dinner party. We might have only had bologna and baked beans, but I'd say turn the flowers on those plates around, and we'll have a party."

From St. Stephens to New York, Ross always found work

One of the many places Julia Naioma Ross fondly recalls working is the Ganong candy factory. It was almost 74 years ago, but the Tabusintac woman hasn't forgotten. "My sister, Inez, and I went to St. Stephen on Nov. 19, 1919," she said in a recent interview. Ross was only 16, but already had more than three years of work experience keeping house and baby-sitting.

She turns 90 on Sunday and was born at a time when children were expected to help support themselves. John W. Ross and Margaret Barron Kenny Ross had nine children, and Julia was one of eight girls. "When we were going to school if you weren't going to be a nurse, a minister, a teacher or a priest, you only went to the fourth reader," she said. She and Inez saw an advertisement in the paper where Ganong's was looking for workers. It seemed like a good job, and they applied. Julia Ross recalls she worked for three months on the floor marking chocolates and couldn't sit down to do it. Every kind of chocolate was marked with a special symbol and she still remembers many of them. Later, she moved to the hand dipping room where all of the chocolates were dipped in the company's special coating. "They laid us off at Christmas in 1920 and called us back in March ... but Inez didn't return," Ross said.

She remembers that winter trip back to St. Stephen as if it were yesterday. "We had to cross the Miramichi River on ice and catch the train in Loggieville. We went by horse and sleigh to Lower Newcastle," she said. The trip from Loggieville to St. Stephen also included changing trains several times. "Ganong's had large old hall for keeping the girls. There were about 100 of us in there, and a family looked after it. They called it Elm Hall," Ross said. Within the hall, there was also a big room set aside as a quarantine when her friend from Woodstock took sick with scarlet fever, she said. Since she and her friend had also been room-mates, both of them were quarantined. “We just got her settled and a girl from Nova Scotia, that came in, got it, too," recalls Ross. "There I was with the two of them to care for; but thank God I didn't get it.”

"Ganong's were paying me because they didn't have to pay a nurse, and Mrs. Towers, the matron of the hall, didn't take off the usual $3 a week for room and board. We were paid every two weeks - $16, that's what I was getting in the factory," Julia said.

After six weeks as quarantine nurse, 17 year old Ross could return to the factory, but she packed her trunk and headed home. She'd had enough. There was only one problem. She was in such a hurry to go home, she forgot to write and tell someone to meet her. After she got off the steamer, Alexander, which had taken her from Newcastle to Neguac, she had no drive. "I walked from the Neguac wharf into the Ross Road, which was 7-8 or 9 miles. The Ross Road (home to Grattan Settlement) was all woods then,” said the elderly woman. "That was in June. I was home for two weeks, settled in for a good long summer holiday, and this big car drives in. "I was making biscuits," she said. The visitor, from Woodbarn Farm at Morrison Cove, was looking for a cook and housekeeper. At the end of the week, Ross took the Alexander to Woodbarn Farm and stayed for two years.

In April, 1922 she went to Cambridge, Massachusetts to work for the private families of Johnson and Nichols. "In 1924, I left Cambridge and went up to New York to do the same kind of work," Ross said. She ended up working for philanthropist, artist and sculptor Lillian Wadsworth at 600 Madison Ave. "They had really big parties there," Ross said smiling. "That's where I served (blind and deaf lecturer) Helen Keller. But that's not the night I spilled meringue down the lady's back," she said laughing and adding such incidents helped make her time there memorable.


Source: Miramichi Leader – October 08, 1993

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