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Ruth Elizabeth Hopson, who lived through two World Wars and two deadly pandemics, dies at 108

Ruth Elizabeth Hopson, born in 1912, spent her early childhood in a South Philadelphia house with her great-uncle, who served during the Civil War. Mrs. Hopson died Sunday, July 4, at 108.

Ruth Elizabeth Hopson
Ruth Elizabeth HopsonRead moreCourtesy of the Hopson family

Ruth Elizabeth Hopson, 108, once the city’s oldest Philadelphia-born resident, and who was featured in The Inquirer in March after getting the COVID-19 vaccine, died Sunday, July 4, of heart disease at her home in the city’s Wynnefield Heights neighborhood.

When the influenza pandemic hit Philadelphia in 1918, Mrs. Hopson was 6 years old, but never recalled memories of the deadly outbreak, one of her daughters said.

But she paid close attention to the COVID-19 pandemic, which closed down much of the United States in March 2020.

“She kept up with the news, but she was not a fearful person,” said her daughter Merle Hopson. “She was aware of what was happening, and she was eager to get vaccinated. … She was a progressive-thinking person, and even at her advanced age she was aware of the urgency of people getting vaccinated.”

Shortly after receiving the injection, Mrs. Hopson told The Inquirer: “I’m very happy — I’m going to do the Charleston.”

Merle Hopson said they all laughed because their mother always entertained her children by dancing the Charleston when they were growing up.

“When she was younger, she loved to dance,” her daughter said. “She was a wonderful mother. She was so much fun. She had a great sense of humor. Ours was the house where all the children came to play.”

Ruth Elizabeth Waugh Hopson was born Nov. 25, 1912, in Philadelphia to Edward H. and Irene Francis Farley Waugh.

She was the fourth of six children and spent her early childhood in the 400 block of Quince Street in South Philadelphia, with their great-aunt and great-uncle. Her great-uncle had been blinded while serving in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Mrs. Hopson’s family moved to West Philadelphia in 1926, when she was about 14. That year, her father died. She graduated from Overbrook High School and wanted to go to college to become a teacher, her daughter said.

But with her widowed mother rearing six children, financial barriers kept her from college.

She later met Charles O. Hopson, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service. Her brother introduced them, at a dance or card party, their daughter said.

They were married around the beginning of World War II and had five children. Mrs. Hopson was a homemaker, while her husband worked. Their union lasted until his death in 2008.

“My mother stressed the importance of education and three of us became teachers and my oldest sister worked with children for the Department of Recreation and the School District of Philadelphia,” Merle Hopson said.

Mrs. Hopson often told them she was never late or absent in her 12 years of schooling.

Carla Hopson-Tyson, another daughter, recalled that when she was in elementary school, “we had an Easter-hat parade, and my mother would make my hat by hand and I would always win for having the best hat.”

She was also a great baker whose children’s teachers loved the cakes she baked for them.

Merle Hopson said their mother told them stories about growing up in South Philadelphia.

“She told us about the lamplighter who used to come around and light the streetlamps at night, and there were horse-drawn cars and wagons that would deliver coal, ice, and milk,” Merle Hopson said. “We loved to hear those kind of stories.”

When she turned 100 in 2012, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama sent her a birthday card.

In May 2019, Mrs. Hopson attended her last Mayoral Centenarians’ Celebration. She was 106 at the time and recognized as the oldest woman in attendance.

Mrs. Hopson was a longtime member of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in the Overbrook Farms section of the city.

In addition to her daughters, Mrs. Hopson is survived by two other daughters, Joyce Clark and Barbara Gorgas, and multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Her only son, Harry Hopson, died earlier.

Services were held Tuesday, July 13.

Memorial contributions may be mailed to: the Jesse F. Anderson Sr. Scholarship Fund, at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, 6361 Lancaster Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19151