Ruth Paine, who is 81-years-old and lives quietly in a Santa Rosa Quaker community, is speaking in Sonoma on Friday about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Fifty-years ago, in an act of pure kindness, Paine invited Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife, Marina, and their children to live with her, because they were suffering economically. As it turned out, unbeknownst to her, Oswald hid the rifle he used to kill the president in her garage, and spent the night before the murder in Paine’s home, visiting his wife.
And so Ruth Paine became a permanent part of history. She was a key witness in the Warren Commission’s investigation. The Irving, Texas, house she lived in, where she hosted the Oswalds, was recently turned into a museum. Now, as Nov. 22 draws near for the 50th time, curiosity focuses on Paine once again, and she feels a responsibility to accommodate. Paine recently met with NBC’s Tom Brokaw for an anniversary story he is doing. She will speak here because the Sonoma Valley Historical Society invited her.
Paine believes Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. She thinks it is pivotal for people to remember that, before he killed the president, Oswald attempted to murder Edwin A. Walker, a former Army general and an avid anti-communist. She calls Oswald “very much a loner” and she didn’t particularly like him.
She does not believe there was a conspiracy to kill President Kennedy, and she doesn’t engage in conversation with people believe there was. “In my view there was not a conspiracy,” she said. “Conspiracy theorists believe it like a religion, and I don’t mess with people’s religion.”
Lee Harvey Oswald, a former U.S. Marine, was a Marxist who defected to the USSR in 1959. While in the Soviet Union, he married Marina, and, when he became disenchanted with his life there, brought her back with him to Texas. Marina did not speak English.
Paine, a graduate of Antioch College, became a Quaker as a young woman. She was always very interested in languages, having studied French, German and Yiddish. As a part of her Quaker religion, she was involved in a pen pal program, writing letters to young women in the USSR, and was trying to learn Russian. “Talk to your enemies, that’s what the bible tells you,” she said. She met the Oswalds at a party in early 1963, and was drawn to Marina because she provided an opportunity for her to practice speaking Russian.
At the time, Paine was separated from her husband, Michael Paine, and was living alone with her two young children. Marina and Lee were having difficulties as well, in part because Lee had difficulty holding down a job. He only had a high school education and he did not drive. The Oswalds had a young child and a baby on the way, and Lee was not working. That’s when Paine invited Marina and her child to stay with her until the baby was born and for a while longer. Paine said she did this to be kind, to remedy her own loneliness, and to improve upon her Russian. The two women became good friends.
While Marina was living with Paine, Paine heard from a neighbor that they were hiring at the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, and told Marina to pass the information on to Lee, who was living in a boarding house. Oswald got the job, so Paine, in addition to her connection to the Oswalds through Marina’s residency, also inadvertently helped Oswald get a job in the building where he would eventually go to shoot the President.
Paine, who has a sign that reads, “War is not the answer,” posted outside her door, now lives in a small apartment where two shelves of her ample bookcases are devoted to Kennedy. She believes the most accurate account of the Kennedy tragedy is captured in Vincent Bigliosi’s “Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,” which is the basis for the movie “Parkland,” produced by Tom Hanks, that will be released this fall.
There is even a book there about her own experience, “Mrs. Paine’s Garage,” by Thomas Mallon.
Paine is articulate and sincere, and still very tall. One of the ways she contributes to her residential community is by picking their many fruit trees, because she doesn’t need a ladder. She came to California to be near her son, having left Texas long ago, after living for many years in Florida and enjoying a long career as an educator. She never remarried, but found “the love her life,” John, four years ago.
The burning question of an entire generation – “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” – has a harrowing meaning for Paine. She had not gone into Dallas, fearing traffic and not wanting to take her children into the crowds. She was out doing errands at the time Kennedy was shot, and heard the news of his death on television after returning home.
When law enforcement officers came to her door shortly after, she first thought they were there to deliver her divorce papers. They searched the home, finding an empty bedroll in the garage where Oswald had hidden his rifle, which Marina had known was there, but Paine did not. A pacifist, she would never have allowed a gun in her home. “That’s when I knew it could have been Lee and I was so upset,” she said. “That was the worst moment.” As she spoke of these events last week, all these decades later, she was still clearly shaken. “The grief never goes away,” she said. “I wish the President had lived.”
Ruth Paine with will give a speech, “The JFK Assassination 50 Years Later: My Window on the Oswalds,” and answer questions at 2 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at the Sonoma Valley Historical Society meeting to be held at the Woman’s Club, 574 First St. E., Sonoma. A $5 donation for members, $10 for nonmembers is requested.