Obituary Listings

Edna Ruth Atkins

July 29, 1925 March 22, 2019
Edna Ruth Atkins
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Obituary for Edna Ruth Atkins

Edna Ruth Wheeler Atkins, known to many as MamaRuth, passed away peacefully in her sleep on Friday, March 22, 2019 at the age of 93. A long-time resident of Durham, NC, Ruth lived the final decade of her life being tenderly cared for in her daughter Karen’s Burlington home.

Born on July 29, 1925 in Crittenden County, Kentucky, she was the only daughter of George Elliot Wheeler and Nellie Pearl Wheeler. She survived all six of her brothers: RL, Carl, Harold, Paul, Lonnie, and Daniel (Danny). Always musical, young Ruth regularly played guitar and spoons live on a radio show in Kentucky. During World War II, she was a real life “Ruthie the Riveter,” working on the assembly line at an airplane factory. Throughout the war, she exchanged letters with her sweetheart, Josiah Alton Atkins (Joe). In 1946, she moved to North Carolina and married Joe. They shared a life for 49 years until his passing in 1992. Together they raised two children, Kenneth Alton Atkins (Ken), born in 1947, and Karen Anne Atkins, born in 1952, in a house that they built from scratch on Atkins family land on Hope Valley Road in Durham.

Though she was often the straight woman to Joe’s comedian, she was also witty in her own right, and the couple’s home was always full of laughter and family. For example, Ruth once rescued Karen from a hole that Ken had dug in the ground and served “chicken” to her family that she later revealed was squirrel. She worked as a meat wrapper in various grocery stores throughout Durham, and she was a shop steward and active in the union until she retired in 1991. After retiring, she was an accomplished canner, cake decorator, and seamstress and an active member of her church, The Gospel Center (now Grove Park Chapel). Despite her ongoing battles with diabetes and heart disease, whenever she was asked how she was doing, she would say, “Oh, I’m hangin’ in there!”

She is predeceased by her parents, her brothers, her husband, and many of her treasured friends and in-laws. She is survived by her children, Ken (Beth) and Karen Atkins, her grandchildren Tony (Elaine), Kendra (Steve), and Sam (Ashley), and her cherished niece Georgean “Geana” Ruth (Anthony). She also leaves behind three great grandchildren, Karys, Phillip, and Saryn Ruth, two special great-nieces, Jessica and Natalya, and one special great-nephew, Kevin. She is remembered fondly by numerous other family members and friends.

A graveside funeral service, officiated by Ruth’s son the Rev. Dr. Kenneth Atkins, will be held 11 a.m. on Monday, March 25 at Woodlawn Memorial Park mausoleum. The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 pm on Sunday, March 24 at Clements Funeral Home, Durham.

The family would like to offer thanks to special caretakers Johnnie May Fields and her daughter Ruth as well as Amedisys Home Health and Amedisys Hospice for their loving care in Ruth’s final years.

Ruth would not consider her death to be a tragedy but rather a reunion with her husband Joe, her savior Jesus Christ, and the other loved ones who went before her.

The family is being assisted by Clements Funeral and Cremation Services, Inc. in Durham. Online condolences may be sent to

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Previous Events





6:00 PM 3/24/2019 6:00:00 PM - 8:00 PM 3/24/2019 8:00:00 PM
Clements Funeral Home

1105 Broad St.
Durham, NC 27705

Clements Funeral Home
1105 Broad St. Durham 27705 NC
United States

Graveside Service




11:00 AM 3/25/2019 11:00:00 AM
Woodlawn Memorial Park

2107 Liberty St.
Durham, NC 27703

Woodlawn Memorial Park
2107 Liberty St. Durham 27703 NC
United States

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