After 70 years, old friends brought together by stolen photo

After 70 years, old friends brought together by stolen photo
SEATTLE -- It was 70 years ago that a Portland sailor stole a photo of a Washington woman, and he said he's regretted it ever since.

In 1943, 22-year-olds Ruby Ruff and seaman Jim Williams shared a dance at Portland's Jantzen Beach Amusement Park.

There was no romance at that time, but there was a new friendship.

In those days, families -- including the Ruff family -- opened their homes to servicemen to make them feel welcome. So it was no big deal when Ruby brought Jim back to her home for lemonade.

That was when he did something that he would regret for most of his life.

"I saw the picture on an end table next to the sofa and that's when I slipped it out of the frame and took it," Williams said. "One of the reasons why I took it was people had pictures of girls on their bunks at Depoe Bay, but I didn't have any. So I thought this was a good chance to get one."

He shipped out days later and for three years was sent to some of the most dangerous places in World War II. And for the entire time, Ruby's photo was in his bag.

While other servicemen used starlets as pinups, Jim had Ruby. He thought he'd eventually find her and return the photo, but he never did.

Fast forward 70 years and Jim is now 92-years old. He raised a family in Illinois, but he never forgot about Ruby.

In what he said may be his final road trip to visit his daughter in Los Angeles, he detoured to Portland in an attempt to find Ruby. He wanted to return the photo and relieve his guilt.

"Well, I stole it," he said. "It was wrong to begin with."

He first contacted the Oregonian newspaper, which ran a front page story about his search. He didn't even know if Ruby was still alive, but he wanted to find out.

It turns out she is alive, living in Silverlake, Washington. Ruby Ruff is now Ruby Haven, married 67 years to an airman.

A relative saw the article, and a week later she received a package in the mail from Jim. Ruby was amazed, but admitted that she didn't remember meeting Jim all those years ago.

When she opened the package, she saw the photo.

"You can see that it's old," she said.

The stolen picture was back in Ruby's hands, and it included an apology.

"Dear Ruby, this letter accompanies the photo I reluctantly returned to you," the letter reads.

In his letter, Jim told Ruby the photo had survived battles in the south and north Pacific, as well as submarine attacks and 30 nights of bombings.

"Well, my picture has seen a lot more than I have," Ruby said.

Age, health and travel prevented the two 92-year-olds from ever meeting. Jim was in Los Angeles and Ruby in Silverlake, so it seemed the face-to-face apology Jim was hoping for was out of the question.

While an in-person meeting wasn't possible, technology allowed the pair to see each other. Using Skype, Jim was finally able to apologize to Ruby.

"Yeah, it's been a long 70 years since I've seen you," Jim said. "Its been a long guilt trip for me after taking your picture from you parents' home. I've thought about it for all 70 years and wanted to get it back to you."

The pair laughed and smiled, almost like they were back at Jantzen Beach again.

"I regretted taking that picture for 70 years, but right now I'm glad I did it. I get to talk with you, which I would not have done had I not taken the picture," Jim said.

Ruby said she's going to do the proper thing and send Jim a thank you letter by US mail, not email.

"As the old saying goes, they don't make them like that anymore," she said.