WILMINGTON — Sadly, Grace ‘Gracie’ Ruark deValinger, 72, was taken from us Saturday, May 22, 2021. Thus, ending this story of a beautiful soul.
The bundle of joy known as Mary Grace Ruark burst forth into this world Jan 5, 1949, to proud parents, Frank and Margaret “Mickey” Ruark in Evanston, Illinois. Along with her barely older brother, Bart, the family resettled in Winston-Salem in 1957, from where the kids eventually spread their wings and flew the coop.
Known to the family as “Mary,” she went to camp one year in her early teens, where there were seven girls named Mary. Always wanting to be her own person and “doing it her way,” she decided she wanted to be called Grace. So Grace it was! When her friends would call on the phone, we’d call upstairs for Mary, and they would say, “No, I want to talk to Grace.” I had to reassure them they were one and the same and that they weren’t dealing with a split personality.
In her teen years, when she wasn’t tormenting her brother and doing all the girly things young women do, she enjoyed horseback riding and swimming. She earned her Water Safety Instructor qualification and was a lifeguard. She was a summer camp counselor for several years as well as camp nurse.
In Winston-Salem, Grace particularly enjoyed going to Home Moravian Church for the Moravian Love Feast. When she and daughter, Sheila Marie, moved to Wilmington, they joined Covenant Moravian Church. As Grace loved to bake, she made the Love Feast buns and participated in Candle Tea, donning period costumes, which she had sewn.
When Grace moved into her “work life,” she became an R.N., graduating from Forsyth Tech in Winston-Salem. Nursing took her to Atlanta and beyond as she worked as a traveling nurse for a while before settling in Wilmington in 1979, as she wanted to be close to the ocean.
Grace was an O.R. nurse for 20-plus years at New Hanover Memorial Hospital. Wanting a change in work-life balance, Grace became a manicurist and a personal caretaker until retiring in 2020.
Somewhere along the way, marriage added “deValinger” to her moniker. Her daughter, Sheila Marie, was born in October 1970. Sheila grew up to be a fine young woman who has five children of her own. When the first one was born, Grace was adamant that she was not going to be called “Granny,” “Gra-maw,” or any other such derivation, and decided that she was now Gracie, which seemed to perfectly fit her playful, often irreverent and mischievous, personality.
Gracie loved her grandchildren and great-grandkids more than anything. She was always finding ways to make them laugh — from singing “I’m a Pie in the Sky,” when one of them would climb a giant tree in her backyard, to serving great-grands hot chocolate in the mornings before the mommies were awake. She infused the babies with enthusiasm, and they were always ready to do whatever she did.
She loved having them join her at the counter in the kitchen learning all her SWAG secrets. She instilled many family traditions into her grandchildren, who will do the same with their children (Gracie’s great-grandkids).
One thing she did with her eight great-grands (aged 6 weeks to 7 years) was instill a sense of self and positive image. She would tell them, “You are kind. You are smart. You are strong. You are important. You are brave. ” And for each child, she would add a special affirmation just for that child.
She loved cooking and was frequently in the kitchen baking goodies, especially biscotti, which she often sent to friends and relatives for the pure joy of it. Other hobbies included stained glass, cross-stitch, crewel embroidery, painting figurines and gardening. Her yard was always amazing and blazing with new plantings. Her favorite tree was surely the Japanese maple and she loved to grow orchids.
For 38 years, she was a devoted owner of border collies. She rescued and mothered orphaned and abused untold numbers of border collies, as well as raising several litters of her own. Her deep love of animals was evidenced by her volunteer work at Coastal Carolina Wildlife Rehab Center and financial support to Big Oaks Rescue Farm in South Carolina.
Not only did she care for animals, she was devoted to taking care of people, even if she didn’t know them. One time a stranger put a request on Facebook asking for help for two children she had taken in, who showed up with nothing more than backpacks…no clothes, no food…nothing. Gracie was the first one to respond. At the time, she was delivering veggies to her Produce Box clients. She always had leftovers, and she knew this woman and children could benefit from her generosity. Afterward, the two became best of friends. That legacy continues as that friend brought us food as we navigate this time in our lives. The circle remains unbroken.
Over the years, she hosted several foreign exchange students from far flung places including France, Spain, Russia, China and Japan. Gracie and her Japanese student, Yuka, became fast friends and several years ago Gracie traveled to Japan to attend Yuka’s wedding and was surprised by being asked to be a bride’s maid!
Her love of and devotion to her family was like none other. She was always doing special things with and for the ones she loved and seemed to know just what everyone needed, wanted and loved to do. She had a special way of making us all feel very loved and appreciated. She nicknames for everyone. Some quick. Some Silly, some that are better left unspoken — but always right on. One of the grandchildren even had his own nickname for her, “My Dacie.”
One year for Christmas, she asked her brother what he would like. His reply was “Oh, just some dumb thingy.” Little did he know he flipped her switch and from then on every birthday or holiday he received, along with her family-famous “Gotta Biscotti,” a funny figurine or timely memento for his ever growing collection of “Some Dumb Thingies,” each one cherished as a reminder of his sister’s playfulness and love.
Grace was a member of PEO sisterhood both in the Winston-Salem and Wilmington chapters. In fact, she was recently recognized as having been a devoted member for 50 years.
Grace had many friends she loved and who loved her. She would always brighten their day. As someone posted on Facebook, after learning of her passing, “She had a graceful, serene presence that was contagious and noticed by everyone she met. She always left a lasting impression.”
Gracie was truly our “Amazing Grace!”
All services will be held Saturday, June 5, at Andrews Market Street Chapel, starting with a private time for family at 1 p.m., then public visitation at 2 p.m., followed by the funeral service at 3 p.m.
Share online condolences with the family at Andrews Mortuary & Crematory.