With an abundance of friends and family, delicious food, flowing champagne and her very own art show on display at the Galerie Old Chelsea, Millie Rutledge’s 100th birthday was better than she could have ever imagined.
Millie’s longevity doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, though—it simply seems to run in the Chelsea resident’s family, with her youngest sibling to predecease her still living well into her 80s. Born October 4, 1919 in Toronto, Mildred Rutledge (née Dobson, and known as Millie), was one of eight children. Only ten years old when the Great Depression struck, Millie said this meant, “no money, no pencils, no books, no anything,” when describing her family’s economic struggles.
Creativity also seems to run in the Dobson blood. It’s rumored that Millie’s great-grandfather invented the Christmas card and was named a favourite of Queen Victoria’s after she commissioned a painting from him. And just because Millie has made the centenarian club, that doesn’t mean her memory is any worse for the wear. She describes her Grade One teacher as a sweetheart and loving person who encouraged a young Millie’s love for the subject of art.
Growing up, she may not have acquired many material possessions, but Millie cherished a golden opportunity. Every Saturday morning, she joined a group of other young hopefuls to listen to Arthur Lismer, one of the founders of the Group of Seven, best known for iconic paintings of the Canadian landscape. Fast forward through her youth, and it was a fashion design course that led to her first job, drawing for the Sears Catalogue at $12 a week.
Millie met her husband, Frederick Rutledge, on a night out at the Palace Pier in Toronto. They married in 1941 and eventually had four children together. After a stint as Captain in the Canadian army during World War II, the family made the move to Ottawa in 1946, where Frederick worked his way up to president at Airway Surgical Appliances.
It was in Ottawa that Millie found her joy. “The Ottawa School of Art had life-drawing workshops,” she explains, “and I was in heaven.” She started selling her art at the Stone House Gallery in Merrickville, and has developed some devout collectors through the years, proclaiming, “One woman owns ten landscapes!”
She chalks much of her good health up to living out her passion. “Everybody has to have a passion if they can. It helps you feel life is really wonderful and keeps you healthy.” Yet, her life hasn’t been without trials and tribulations as she lost both her husband and son in close succession during what she calls “a really bad year,” and she had a colon cancer scare three years ago.
Moving out to Chelsea to live with her daughter Elizabeth, also an artist, was supposed to be temporary. But ten years later, she’s still there and it doesn’t seem like she’s going anywhere soon.
Asked if she’s afraid of dying, she shakes her head and states emphatically, “I’m not ready to go yet!” And why would she be? Her life has been blessed with six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, plus the privilege of making her passion into her profession.
Her most recent display, entitled The Late Show, consists of small, moody landscapes and abstract compositions in watercolour and India ink. “If you want to paint, then paint—and paint and paint and paint!” she advises.