Wineka column: Charles Rufty takes a peaceful journey home
SALISBURY — You might say Charles Rufty's funeral Tuesday went by the book.
The hymns were strong and time-tested: “A Mighty Fortress,” “Rock of Ages” and “Amazing Grace.”
The Bible readings couldn't have been more appropriate: from Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd”) to John 14 (“I am the way, the truth and the life”).
The service fit the full life of Rufty, described by St. John's Lutheran Church Pastor Rhodes Woolly as a shy, quiet, fun-loving, honest and respected man who loved fatback and collard greens.
But Rufty's final farewell diverged slightly from standard practice Tuesday when the church service was over.
The family followed the casket outside to where it was loaded into a black, horse-drawn hearse, waiting on West Innes Street.
Sir Timothy, a spunky white horse called “Tim” for short, then led the procession of cars to City Memorial Park, in a quiet clippety-clop that Rufty himself would have appreciated.
“The good guys always had white horses,” said Tzena Wicker, one of Rufty's five daughters.
Going to his final resting place this way seemed entirely fitting for Rufty. There wasn't a Western movie the man had not seen.
Plus, as a kid, he used to ride in the back of an O.O. Rufty General Store wagon as it delivered feed to farms. Rufty liked to straddle the feed bags as though he were riding a horse.
Wicker said she can't adequately describe how peaceful it was for her and the rest of the family to be able to ride behind the hearse Tuesday and hear Tim's hooves against the pavement.
Cars stopped in the opposite lanes as the procession made the less-than-a-mile journey from church to cemetery.
Sara McCubbins, who held the reins on Tim from the carriage hearse, said Rufty was a true cowboy at heart and a man who loved horses.
“They couldn't think of a better way than for him to hear hoofbeats for the last time,” McCubbins said of the family.
Most Salisburians came to know Rufty as the founder of Southeastern Plumbing Supply, mentoring three generations of Rowan County plumbers.
McCubbins knew Rufty through her friendship with Tzena Wicker. The women ride trails together, and Wicker boards her horse at McCubbins' stables.
McCubbins owns and operates Horse & Carriage Ltd, providing carriage rides for occasions such as weddings, birthdays, anniversaries and other special events.
She also has done a few funerals, employing an 1890 hearse. McCubbins had just received delivery on a new hearse, a reproduction modeled after one from about 1860.
After Rufty's death Saturday, McCubbins talked to Wicker and relayed how she wanted to do something for her family.
She offered to carry Rufty's casket to the cemetery by horse in the new hearse.
Wicker asked the rest of her family about McCubbins' proposal, and the decision was unanimous. There also was a balance to the idea.
This summer, one of McCubbins' white carriages was used at the wedding of a Rufty grandson.
Sir Timothy has a back story of his own. He used to be a Central Park horse in New York. But when he injured a hoof, his owners put him up for slaughter.
McCubbins stepped in and rescued Tim. All of her carriage horses, in fact, are rescue animals.
“I'll take them and rehabilitate them and, if appropriate, put them back to work,” McCubbins said. “A happy horse is a working horse. They don't last long if they just stand around.”
Tim is pretty much perfect now. You can still see a little deformity on what was once his bad foot, but McCubbins said he has so much personality he's like a human with four legs.
“He's absolutely wonderful,” she added. “You're not going to bother him with anything.”
Remember, this horse was used to New York traffic.
For the procession, McCubbins kept Tim walking at about 8 to 10 mph.
Staton Carter of Summersett Funeral Home said the distance to the cemetery was good, and the procession's pace pretty much matched that of an all-vehicle motorcade.
This actually wasn't the first time the funeral home has participated in a service with a horse-drawn hearse, but the practice remains unusual.
Carter, who personally likes the tradition and history behind it, said he hoped Summersett could be involved with more in the future.
McCubbins had the funeral home staff scrambling for awhile before the service. She mentioned that Tim was used to being rewarded with a snack — preferably something sweet — after his job was done, and she hoped Summersett's would have something ready for him.
Carter went on a scavenger hunt at the funeral home and came back with a piece of pecan pie.
Tim inhaled it, McCubbins reported later.
Rufty, 85, was the youngest of 12 children and always hardworking.
“You just don't see that kind of hard work any more,” Woolly said.
He described how Rufty had to kill 12 chickens every Friday night after school so they could be sold in the store the next day, or how Rufty carried gallon after gallon of water to the sweet potato field.
By 19, he already owned five properties. By 25, he and brother Harold built a lake-view cabin at Lutheridge as a family retreat.
The family often heard the story of how Rufty once dated five girls in a row named Betty, but he ended up marrying Jean, his bride for 63 years.
With five girls, Rufty went to his share of dance recitals and on many shopping trips as the odd man out.
As the Rockefellers are synonymous with New York, the Ruftys have meant that much to St. John's Lutheran.
Woolly said Charles Rufty invested time and money in things that mattered most — his family and church. He took both seriously.
Rufty was a good guy — the kind who wears white hats and rides white horses, as he did in a way Tuesday.
“It's a difficult time, and it's hard when it's a friend,” McCubbins said. “I got a little emotional, and I shouldn't do that. I just wanted to make them happy and do something special.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.