Debby Summey: Ralph’s house

  • Friday, March 8, 2013

For months after Ralph Ford, Jr. died in February of 2008, I passed his house at 120 Wood St. and saw the ‘For Sale’ sign out front.  Like many people in Georgetown, I was distressed to see Ralph’s house sitting there, vacant and forlorn.  Finally, after a few years, the sign was taken down.  “Thank you, Lord,” I thought.  “Ralph can now rest in peace.”

Ralph Ford was one in a million.  I first met him about 40 years ago when, fresh out of college, I went to work for what was then called the Georgetown County Department of Public Welfare.  Ralph had been working there awhile and offered to help train me.  At the time, caseworkers were required to visit the homes of all food stamp and welfare recipients.

I’ll never forget travelling the back roads of Georgetown County with Ralph.  He was a wonderful storyteller and kept me entertained while we searched for homes in the rural areas of the county.

On our first trip out, Ralph told me to always sit in a wooden, straight back chair on a home visit.  “Why?” I asked.  He replied, “Because the upholstered ones often have bugs.  There are lots of bugs out in the country.”  When we entered the first house, there was one wooden, straight back chair in the front room.  Ralph dove for it, sat down and gave me the most beatific smile while watching me gingerly sit down on the overstuffed sofa.

For those of you who are native Georgetonians, you know the history of Ralph’s family, the businesses they operated on Front Street for nearly 80, and the significant role the family played in the community.  For those who don’t know, an excellent source is the book, “A Walk Down Front Street”, published in 2011 and compiled by the Georgetown County Historical Society.

Last weekend, at the Winyah Bay Heritage Festival, I was introduced to a fellow volunteer by the coordinator, Susan Sawyer.  Susan introduced her as, “Linda Abate, the woman who bought Ralph Ford’s house.”  

Linda Abate will probably always be known as “The woman who bought Ralph Ford’s house.”  She has accepted this graciously and says that she has been introduced this way many times since she bought the house in 2010.  
I think it was meant to be.  After meeting her, I can’t think of anyone better suited for this house than Linda.  Ralph and his mother, the late Leila Porter Ford, would have loved her.  In fact, Linda has felt that Leila is ‘taking care’ of her, just as she is taking care of the house and Leila’s neglected garden.  

Linda has updated the house beautifully, leaving the original hardwood floors, windows, fireplaces, mantels, and other architectural features of the house, which was built in 1926.  The buffet in the dining room is placed exactly where Ralph’s used to be and the collectibles in the china cabinet could have been collected by Ralph. In fact, a few of them were.

Lyn and Judy Cox, two of Ralph’s closest friends, contacted Linda after she moved in.  Ralph had given them two beautiful pieces of silver transfer ware and they presented them to Linda, telling her that Ralph said that having silver transfer ware brought good luck to a home.    

It’s almost like everything is the same, but not the same.  All of this was done by Linda without any knowledge of what ‘used to be’, because the house was completely stripped when she bought it.   

Linda is from Maryland and had vacationed in the South many times, but not in South Carolina.  
Her son went to Wake Forest (where he met his future wife who was from Georgetown, D.C.). He suggested that Linda look for a vacation home in South Carolina.  She looked at Charleston, Murrells Inlet, and other places before driving through Georgetown.  Georgetown had everything she wanted, so she looked at a few houses before she discovered Ralph’s house on Wood Street.  

I don’t know if Linda found the house, or the house found Linda. Her son and daughter-in-law, now living in Charlotte, and daughter, at James Madison University in Virginia, have visited her here and like it very much. So do her ‘guard’ dogs, Gunner and Macie, adopted from the St. Frances Animal Center.  I hope Linda Abate is here to stay.  I think Ralph would like that very much.
To Ralph, Leila, and Linda ... thanks for the memories!

I may be reached at (843) 446-4777 or email at djsummey@gmail.com.





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