Ruth Liatos staying active by clowning around

Ruth Liatos is an energetic woman who may well be a match for people half her 73 years. A resident of Council House retirement home, she is so busy it is hard to think of her as retired.

It is hard to think of her as a clown, too, but that is just one of several out-of-character activities she has taken up since she retired from a San Francisco office job in 1992.

Why would someone who spent 40 years in the same area suddenly pull up stakes and move somewhere else when she retired?

"San Francisco was pricing me out," the vivacious redhead explained. "Also I fell in love with my grandchild, who was two-and-a-half when I was able to retire. I would not have been able to retire as early if I had to pay San Francisco prices."

For the past two years she has lived at Council House retirement home on Capitol Hill at 17th and Pike, where she works two hours a week at the reception desk. Before moving to Council House she lived in Wallingford and Greenlake. But that was before her rent got too high.

"I came here in desperation," Ruth said. "The minute I got here I loved it. There are lots of people doing interesting things, and it's a community here."

She was also happy about not having to cook, but she has decided to go back to cooking for herself.

"I really need to eat more vegetables and take better care of myself," she explained. "I like to cook, just for myself."

It's not that she doesn't have enough other things to do. Ruth is a member of the Seattle chapter of the Raging Grannies, a group of about 20 women, aged 50 to nearly 90, who wear costumes and sing funny songs, a cappella, supporting peace and social justice and people's rights. She said the group rehearses three times a month and then before they perform, which is about five times a month at places such as festivals, retirement homes and churches.

"Anybody that will have us," she said, laughing. "It's kind of a caricature of what a granny is thought of. It's light hearted with a message. We're against war. We're for peace, so we've been doing a lot of songs about peace lately."

One of her four children is retired from the Navy.

"I don't think he approves, but I never really asked him," she said. She does not give the impression that it matters whether he approves or not.

She is also a member of the Rolling Crones, an older women's chorus that performs less frequently than the Raging Grannies.

"We embrace the idea that we are older," she said of the Rolling Crones. "We see it as very positive being older. We sing and perform madrigals, folk songs, some jazz."

You might easily think Ruth is involved in two singing groups because of her show business background or an early desire to be a chanteuse. You would be wrong. Ruth never sang until she retired and moved to Seattle.

"Before I retired I was afraid of getting up in front of anyone," she said. "Now I love performing in front of an audience." "It's fun because you can really interact with a lot of people sometimes."

Her son, daughter-in-law and grandson sometimes come to her performances.

"I think that they like it that I am active and busy," she said. "They are active and busy people, too."

So, what about being a clown?

Clown classes were offered through a Greenwood senior center, and Ruth thought that sounded like it would be fun. In the class, the presenters helped them get dressed up in clown stuff and put on makeup, and then took them out into the big, wide world.

"We went out on Greenwood for the Artwalk and people thought we were hired to do it," she said.

Ruth was clearly delighted. She has since taken several classes, and appears at senior centers and works with people in assisted-living care as a clown, Matilda Precious. She and her clown partner take the bus to their engagements, in full regalia.

"Some people look straight ahead," she said, demonstrating furtive, sidelong glances, "and some say, 'Oh, hi, you're a clown!'"

She and her partner were invited once to Rainier School on Career Day.

"As clowns. That was our career!" she said, relishing the memory. "Kids just came over and were hugging me. A clown just makes people happy - you don't really have to do anything."

She said she just blows bubbles and acts silly. She is also a story teller, going to retirement homes and telling stories for the residents. She is preparing to begin going to schools as a clown and telling stories and interacting with the children.

"I don't get bored," Ruth said. "All this takes a lot of preparation." She has to learn stories and learn songs and rehearse, plus she likes to go to the symphony - special senior citizen tickets are just $10 the day of performance.

"Yeah, I'm busy," she said. "I don't have hobbies, I like to do particular things."

She gets out and around too, even without performing. Council House organizes outings - to dinner, movies, that sort of thing - and she plans to take more advantage of that, too.

"I love Seattle," she said. "It's changing a lot. That's one of the wonderful things about being here, the diversity of it. I've enjoyed living in other places, but it's so wonderful being on Capitol Hill."

Freelance writer Korte Brueckmann is Capitol Hill resident. He can be reached c/o

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