Ross, Mary Pauline
February 5, 1931 - July 11, 2015
The life of Mary Pauline Ross, known as Pauline to her friends, was so unlikely that it has taken two years to compose her obituary. She was born in the depths of the Great Depression in Troy, Alabama, the ninth and last child of Gustave Frederick Porath and Ada Lee Spradley. When she was three years old her father passed away, leaving his widow to raise their six surviving children - Blanche, Catherine, Joseph, Julia Dean, "G.F.", Gertrude and Pauline. Two younger brothers for whom "G.F." was named (Gustave and Frederick) died in infancy.
Her mother took in boarders and cooked for the local fire department to make ends meet. At times the family literally had no food in the house. Pauline was nine years old before she got her first pair of new shoes. With the help of a strong network of kin and relatives, with whom Pauline sometimes stayed for extended periods, the family endured the Depression.
Pauline was a gifted student. As a girl, she liked to wander the streets reciting Chaucer's Canterbury Tales from memory in old English. She graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Alabama, and won a scholarship for one semester's tuition at college. She was an optimistic spirit who instead of feeling victimized by hardship and lack of privilege gratefully seized the opportunities presented to her.
She wed a dashing baseball player, James Clark, in 1949. The baseball circuit took them from Florida to Canada. Jim played briefly for the L.A. Dodgers in the Major Leagues. The couple settled in Santa Monica, California, where their daughter Terrie Diane Clark (later Roberts) was born. They divorced during Thanksgiving, 1953 but remained friendly throughout their lives.
Pauline and Terrie returned to Montgomery, where she met Robert Benjamin Roberts, an Air Force pilot and highly-decorated war veteran. They married in 1954 and began a two-decade odyssey that took them from Panama to Strategic Air Command bases across the West and to Madrid, Spain. Along the way two sons were born, John Benjamin Roberts II and Kenneth Scott Roberts. Whether touring the West in her 1965 Mustang or taking her family across Europe, Pauline embraced adventure everywhere she went. In Spain she had her family live in Madrid instead of on the Air Force base to better absorb the language and culture, even though it meant living without a telephone for three years. She encouraged her children's interests, from horses to motorcycles to museums. She taught them to appreciate classical music and rock 'n roll, to dance everything from the Charleston to the Twist, and to take action to make their place in the world. Advice she freely gave was to "wish in one hand, spit in the other, and see which one fills up the fastest." Her marriage to Robert Roberts ended in divorce on New Year's Eve, 1975.
At the age of forty, Pauline went back to college and earned a business degree from Golden West Community College. She was working for Congress Insurance Company of Santa Ana, California, when she met her third husband, Lewis James Ross. They married in 1979 at the Little White Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Lewis, an avid sailor and insurance executive, taught her boating. The couple often sailed from Newport to Catalina to spend weekends. She introduced Lewis to international travel. They became partners in a new insurance venture, Capitol Risk Management, which was acquired in the mid-1980s. In 1986, they purchased their dream home overlooking the Pacific in Dana Point, California. That same year, tragedy struck when her only daughter, Terrie, died suddenly from a stroke brought about from chemotherapy treatment at the age of thirty-three.
Pauline and Lewis were happily married for many years. She was an accomplished golfer who played in tournaments around Southern California. Glamorous and refined, she took pride in her manners and appearance. She had a quick wit and sometimes raucous sense of humor. She and Lewis enjoyed an active social life and hosting a good party. When Terrie and John lived in Washington, D.C, she and Lewis visited often and Pauline was as much at ease dining in the White House or talking with politicians and television celebrity John McLaughlin as at a down-home barbecue party. She was active in her grandchildren's lives and showed loyalty and generosity to her extended family.
Lewis predeceased her in 2008. In 2011 she moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado, to be nearer to family as her health declined due to dementia. Pauline passed away from cancer at the age of eighty-four. She was interred alongside her daughter Terrie at the historic Ivy Hill Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia. She is survived by her sons, John and Ken and their spouses Elizabeth and Beverly; grandchildren, Ben, Ryan, Cole and Claire; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.
Her epitaph - "She Done What She Could" - says it all. She saw it on a tombstone while visiting a Western ghost town and wanted it on her own memorial. She will be remembered for the spirit, optimism and drive that lifted her from circumstances others might have found too daunting to a life of adventure and bounty.
Published in Orange County Register on July 2, 2017