By Derrick Perkins (Photo/Roger Sullivan)
The Rev. Oran Warder of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church keeps three books on his desk: a Bible, prayer book and a copy of Ruth Lincoln Kaye’s history of the Old Town house of worship.
“I refer to it all the time. I’ve been here 15 years and I still find new and interesting things,” Warder said. “It’s my belief the DNA of the congregation was set 200 years ago and her capturing our history helps me understand [how] we’re still connected to the folks who started this place two centuries ago.”
Kaye, who spent years documenting the rich history of her adopted city, died April 30 at the age of 95 with her family by her side. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1918, Kaye attended Dayton High School and went on to Randolph-Macon College, where she graduated with a degree in English and History in 1939.
She later moved to Alexandria and married Frank Boan. The marriage ended in 1950, and Boan died soon after, but life led her to Merwin Whitcomb Kaye. A 2009 profile of her in the Alexandria Times describes Ruth Lincoln Kaye’s future husband as having “swept her off of her feet.” She remarried in 1953.
A music lover — she attended Randolph-Macon on a scholarship — Ruth Lincoln Kaye taught piano for more than a decade in the 1940s and 50s. Even after switching careers, she continued to perform, singing in St. Paul’s choir for more than 50 years.
But what likely would become Ruth Lincoln Kaye’s lasting legacy in Alexandria did not get its start until much later. It was only after the family had circled the globe several times — Merwin Whitcomb Kaye served in the State Department — that she began documenting the past.
“My passion for history just came naturally from studying American and ancient history in college and then living in a town as historical as Alexandria, which was founded long before the Revolutionary War,” Ruth Lincoln Kaye told the Times in 2009.
She got her start in the 1960s in genealogy. By 1980, her attention had turned to houses and landmarks. In all, Ruth Lincoln Kaye penned the histories of more than 300 local homes, published two volumes on St. Paul’s and documented Alexandria’s legends and folk tales.
Ted Pulliam, author of “Historic Alexandria: An Illustrated History,” described her work as fascinating and beneficial. Her history of the Alexander family was particularly useful, he recalled.
“She has just written a variety of things that are interesting, some about the legends of Alexandria and a couple of other books,” Pulliam said. “Those are very interesting books that have been helpful.”
Warder considers himself and his church indebted to Ruth Lincoln Kaye and her life’s work.
“She really embraced the history of this place and gave us the huge gift of taking all of these scattered resources and compiling them into [two volumes]. It’s just tremendous to have them,” he said. “And her approach to history is much more narrative rather than stale. There are lots of stories. She didn’t miss the humor in life throughout the ages here and actually highlighted the slice of life stories, the stories of real people in a real community over the years. It’s just an incredible gift.”
Ruth Lincoln Kaye is survived by her three children: Merrie Lincoln Kaye, Arthur Lincoln Kaye and Larisa Elizabeth Kaye Hinton. Family and friends are invited to a visitation from 5 to 7 p.m. tomorrow at St. Paul’s Norton Hall. Her funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday. In lieu of flowers, mourners are asked to donate to the St. Paul’s Foundation.