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December 6, 2013

A 67-year-old caroling tradition

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Ruthanna has one son, Thomas Brushart, the Brushart Professor of Hand Surgery and chief of the Orthopedic Hand Surgery Service at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Laughing, he said his primary role during the caroling tradition was "to hold the flashlight so Mother could read the music." A job requiring steady hands, this could have been perfect practice for Brushart's current work sewing nerves together.

In nearly a century, Ruthanna has enjoyed many accomplishments, including helping open the National Museum for Women in the Arts, hosting first ladies at the American Heart Association's annual dinner and welcoming new diplomats with the Meridian International Center.

But her role in starting Kenwood's Christmas caroling tradition may be one of her most remarkable achievements. What makes it so impressive is that it has lasted so long and has brought people together in such a profound and timeless way. The scene calls to mind a Norman Rockwell painting.

So the question on that miserable Christmas Eve last year was whether that tradition was going to continue or end. The rain wasn't letting up, and it was obvious no one else was coming.

"Ready?" Ruthanna said as she gathered the seven of us around her. No way the 97-year-young Ruthanna was going to let this tradition, her tradition — begun before anyone knew the outcome of the Second World War, and continued uninterrupted through many other wars over three generations — come to an end. She had outlasted them all. So, huddled under a pack of umbrellas, our breath adding to the misty fog, we began to sing. The tradition is unbroken.

And no one is betting on this latest tree outlasting her, either.

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