Interview With Ruth Benson Short

From the interview with Ruth Benson Short of Port Townsend conducted by Wendy Los at the Fort Worden History Center on March 3, 2004. Mrs. Short, a longtime Port Townsend resident, served as a Gray Lady volunteer for the Red Cross at Fort Worden during World War II. Among the many stories she shared, Mrs. Short recalled some anecdotes about a friend:

“I just loved the colonel’s wife (Marguerite Wade Van Bibber McIlroy). She was a lot of fun. They were living in an apartment on Blaine Street and I was visiting with a group of women, we were knitting or doing something. There was a rap at the door and here stood a very darling couple and they’d just got married. Mrs. McIlroy went to the door, and the couple said they were making their formal call. She said,’You’ve made it. You don’t need to come in, just turn around, honey. When I was young and in love I didn’t want to be going to the colonel’s house to be talked to. You just go along.’

Then she came back in and she said, ‘A young couple like that just got married. They want to go home and be by themselves. Who wants to be up with a bunch of old colonels and all those kinds of people?” Of course, we just howled.

The McIlroy family moved from that apartment to a huge home on Morgan Hill. (In those days) when you had somebody come and knit and do things like we were doing, you always made sure that you picked all the cushions off your davenport and looked around and made sure that crumbs weren’t under there, that it was all clean–we all did that. One night, someone lost her knitting needle at Colonel McIlroy’s house. The woman who dropped the needle couldn’t find it, she looked and looked for the needle, then she went down in the cushions and said, ‘Oh, dear god! I don’t know what I’ve got a hold of!’

Then she brought it out and it was the biggest butcher knife that we’d ever seen in our lives. The blade was about like that (gesturing about a foot) and it had a big long wooden handle that said US Army on it. We all just roared. We said, ‘We know why we are paying our taxes because this shows the colonel is bringing home all the silverware and all the stuff from the Fort.’

Mrs. McIlroy said, ‘I can’t even imagine how that ever got in there.’”

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