Ruth Audrey Dumas did it ‘Her Way’

Published 12:01 am Friday, July 24, 2015

On July 7, Ruth Audrey Frazier Dumas, aged 82, died in hospice in Ridgeland. She was the fourth wife and widow of the well-known Natchez physician, Dr. Albert W. Dumas Jr. (d.1971), who practiced medicine in Natchez from 1933 to 1969.

Since October 1969, she had been a resident in Jackson.

Circa 1966, Mrs. Dumas became the first black member of the Adams County Democratic Executive Committee. Also, in the same period, she was the first black bank teller at Britton & Koontz Bank.

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Previously, she had been a secretary in the clinic of Dr. Dumas, whom she married in 1960. The former Ruth Audrey Morgan — descended from Natchez’ famous Barland clan— was born at the height of the Great Depression in a storybook house that would set tongues wagging for entirety of the estate’s life-span. 24 Irving Lane, or The Patrick Murphy House, an Italianate Renaissance mansion (constructed 1872-1880), used to perch high on a bluff above the Mississippi River.

With sweeping views, 200-feet above river, this choice property was a product of its time — in not only its architectural style and construction and landscaping, but also, in the racialist codes of local real estate law. When Calvin Smith, a colored businessman and his wife, Ruth Smith (later Frazier)—adoptive parents of “Little Ruth”— purchased the property in 1918, it caused an outrage. Subsequently, according to legend, real-estate clauses throughout the City of Natchez contained provisions to exclude choice properties from black ownership.

Through the years, the house became a gathering place for local, state and national luminaries from many spheres, including the National Civil Rights Movement, when Natchez and Adams County became focal points.

More than 50 years later, the house would figure in local news as having been haunted. More than 70 years later, the actor George Hamilton would transform the house into “The Captain’s Nest Restaurant.” One night, in 1993, the house burned to the ground.

Mrs. Dumas’s adopted mother, Ruth Smith Frazier (d. 1973), had been one of the founders of the Natchez Colored Children’s Christmas Tree Fund. In a 1919 edition of The Natchez Democrat, Dr. Albert W. Dumas, Sr. (d. 1945) — the chief organizer —and Mrs. Frazier were listed as charter members of the charity, which distributed toys and groceries at Christmas.

For the first third of her life, Mrs. Dumas served as a volunteer, and later, a co-sponsor of the event upon her marriage to Dr. Dumas. She retired from the organization in 1971 after Dr. Dumas’ death when the late Mrs. Artimese West became steward of the tradition. Later, the group merged with another city charity led by Mrs. Katherine Killelea and its spirit of giving continues. She had been a volunteer at Cathedral Elementary School where she tutored children with dyslexia.

In her twilight years, Mrs. Dumas lost her sight to macular degeneration. Nonetheless, despite her challenges, she remained a faithful, if reclusive friend and is widely remembered for her generosity of spirit. Before her sight dimmed, she had been an excellent cook and seamstress and was known for her intricately embroidered doilies and collars with pearl clasps.

She was fond of saying, “Today, I may not have money nor power — as society judges — but always, one has small pockets of power and must learn to exercise it; I have.”

None would argue her spirit was best embodied in the lyrics to her favorite song popularized by Frank Sinatra, “My Way.”


Joseph Dumas is a resident of New York City and is the son of the late Ruth Audrey Frazier Dumas.