To many of the people who knew her, Lou Ruth Blake was simply “Aunt Ruth,” whether they were related to her or not. And there was no greater evidence of the devotion she inspired in others than the two caskets beside her own Wednesday at Dunkirk Baptist Church in Calvert County, where hundreds gathered to mourn her and two of her children.
Blake, 81, and her son Lowell Frederick Blake, 58, and daughter Venessa Blake, 56, died within days of one another this month. Health officials think the children succumbed to a rare complication of influenza that they contracted while caring for their mother. A third child, Elaine Blake, 51, who lived with her mother, also fell ill, but she survived.
The three deaths were a personal loss for many in Lusby, where the Blake family has lived for more than a century and where many members of the extended family still live. The house on Rousby Hall Road where Ruth Blake and her late husband, Leroy Blake, brought up seven children is surrounded by the homes of siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Before the service, the parking lot outside Dunkirk Baptist had the feel of a family reunion as relatives who had not seen each other in a while greeted each other with hugs.
Ruth Blake loved listening to and singing gospel music, and she sponsored a gospel concert for more than 30 years. Much of the three-hour service was devoted to performances — some planned and some impromptu — of her favorite gospel tunes, including a rendition of “When I See Jesus” by her 88-year-old brother, James Buck, and his wife, Louise.
Venessa Blake, who worked for the FBI and several health-care facilities, shared her mother’s love of singing, according to an obituary handed out at the service. She also doted on her daughter, Felisha, and her two grandchildren.
Lowell Frederick Blake, known as Fred, was remembered for his drawing, assembling model cars and wood carving and his skill as a masonry worker. He is survived by his wife, Desiree, and a daughter, Nichelle.
Brother and sister went to their mother’s bedside after Ruth Blake fell ill about Feb. 25. She died March 1. The siblings were hospitalized March 4 and died the next day.
Their deaths came on the heels of another family tragedy. A relative, Brian W. Buck, 50, of Lusby, was killed while cutting up an oak that fell in August during Hurricane Irene, according to the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office. The accident took place across the street from Ruth Blake’s home.
Each of the Blakes remembered at Wednesday’s service worshiped at a different church, and several members of the clergy, as well as relatives, took turns delivering prayers and eulogies at a lectern overlooking the caskets. At one point, Lisa Sellman, one of the speakers, expressed thanks for Elaine Blake’s recovery. “Elaine is still here,” she shouted, and the church erupted in applause and cheers.
“I just had to come here today,” said another speaker, Jay Caldwell. He said he received a call from Ruth Blake a few weeks ago, reminding him about an event on the third Saturday in April. “Who would have thought she wouldn’t be here to see us,” he said.
The Rev. Samson Nortey of Eastern United Methodist Church, where Ruth Blake worshiped, was the last to speak. “She was my aunt, too,” he said of Blake. “She made sure everyone felt her motherly instinct.”
Staff writer Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.