Ruth Elaine Romney Powell was born Dec 12, 1943 with Stickler Syndrome, a degenerative disease affecting collagen, and thus joints, hearing, and sight. She lived to defy both the medical community (who at one point stated she wouldn’t live past 20), and all the other odds facing her to become a master musician, musical educator, wife, and mother.
Given a love of music by her mother, she tirelessly worked through physical pain (often caused by the dozens of surgeries attempting to correct degenerating joints) to master the piano, performing in the window of a piano store at age three. The store owner would pay her one dollar for every number she could correctly count up from one. She was “laid off” at age four because she could then count accurately past $20. She became a music teacher at 15 and studied organ under the Tabernacle Choir organists Frank Asper and Alexander Schreiner during her college years. Later in life, Schreiner himself would stand during an ovation after Ruth’s performance on a historic “Tracker” pipe organ in the Salt Lake City 27th Ward building and shout “Bravo”… high praise coming from a true master.
During her master’s degree program she suffered five retinal detachments, requiring a friend to read all of her text books to her so she could pass her classes. Subsequent to regaining her sight, she spent a year in Europe preparing for her Ph.D., where she was privileged to play historic pipe organs in the musical museum in Munich, Germany.
Ruth married Theo Powell, whom she loved dearly, in the Salt Lake City Temple. They settled in Richardson, Texas, where she had their son Mark, who was also born with Stickler Syndrome. Ruth was fully engaged in being an incredible mother and wife. She ensured Mark had every opportunity to experience travel (many National Park trips), Scouting (she helped Mark achieve the Eagle Scout rank), and participation in the Special Olympic Games.
Ruth also became an excellent cook, adapting first to Theo’s diabetes, then gluten intolerance, and subsequently Mark’s evolving food intolerances. Ruth refused to simply serve bland meals, and so explored the culinary world to create delicious meals from the limited scope of ingredients. The physical and spiritual health of her family was always paramount in her mind. She was a tireless optimist in the face of circumstances that most would fold under. She often stated, “If it’s not of eternal importance, then it’s not worth worrying about”, something that has become integrated into countless other lives as a result of her example.
It was in Texas that she established her long and successful piano and organ teaching practice in association with the Richardson Music Teachers Association (RMTA). A life member of the RMTA, she was recognized for her humor and contributions to music, including a Lifetime Achievement Award just prior to the move with her family back to Utah. She loved the gift of music and took joy in sharing it. Alexander Schreiner encouraged her to teach organ as “the church needs organists”, and so she taught all her church organ students without pay. Ruth taught two organ lessons the day before her passing, truly serving to the end.
Ruth will be sorely missed, but her legacy of service and teaching here on this earth will outlive us all in the countless people she affected and their progeny. And, after a happy reunion with her deceased parents, her little brother Mark Romney, and a host of others, we know her service in the hereafter is just beginning.