Meet Ruth Duncan, The Woman Who Keeps a Multi-Million Dollar Company Going.

Da’Vonne Duncan

Ruth Duncan’s LinkedIn Profile

I conducted a Zoom Meeting with my mother, Ruth Duncan, a project accountant of The Conti Group, to discuss Ms. Duncan’s upbringing, her political views of the United States, and her philosophy on life, which was truly inspiring.  

Q: Where were you born and what was your upbringing like?

A: I was born in Plainfield; New Jersey Muhlenberg Hospital and my upbringing was middle class. I had a wonderful childhood, two loving parents, they provided for us and we wanted for nothing.

Q: Who has been the greatest influence in your life, that has impacted the woman you are today?

A: I would have to say my mother, she’s my mentor. She was a true woman, never wore pants, always wore dresses, dressed to the nines to go to the grocery store. So, if you wanted to know what a true woman was definitely my mother. The true example of a giving heart, she taught me compassion, and she taught me faith.  She passed away in 2019 and I miss her dearly, she was my dearest best friend.

Ms. Duncan struggled to get through the previous question, since talking about her mother was difficult.

Ruth Johnson-Harvey, Ruth Duncan’s mother, posing for a photo on her birthday.

Q: Talk a little bit about your family, especially your siblings, you could even talk about how funny your dad was.

A: I’ll start with my mom, she was the disciplinarian, she was the one who kept us straight. My dad was the laid-back, cool, calm, and collective. When we met the storm of my mother, he would always be the backup and say, “baby are you alright?” or he’ll always have a joke and make you laugh. So, they balanced each other in our upbringing. I lost my dad in 1995, but you know such a great friend and such a great father also. My siblings were all close, we talk to each other at least once a week. My one sister, who’s next to me, Sherri, we talk every day that’s my buddy. The one thing my mother taught us and the reason why we are all so close, see each other, and share what’s going on in our lives is if anything happens to me, you all take care of each other or love one another, because that’s all you have. Today, I had it on my mind to call my brother and that’s just how we do. There’s eight of us, all close, we all keep in touch, because of COVID-19 not so much in person, so it’s a lot of texting and phone calls. In my family, there are three natural, and the rest are adopted, but we don’t say that in this family because we don’t feel that way about each other. We’re brothers and sisters and we’re just as close as if they came out of my mother’s womb. We love each other.

Then and now: Ruth Duncan and Johnson are pictured on the left in a portrait taken in the 1980s. On the right the two stopped to take a picture at Johnson’s 2018 Breast Cancer Walk (Photographers Unknown

Q: Can you tell us about your education history and your past goals in high school and college?

A: My education in high school, I went to Rahway High, and then I went to Rutgers University. I majored in biological sciences and I minored in accounting, and my goal actually at the time I wanted to be a doctor and because of life challenges, you know your parents get sick, money factor, so you have to take a detour in life. Being that I had my minor in accounting, I have been an accounts payable manager and I’m accounting right now for a construction company. I still love life, even though my goals have changed to where I am. God provides for what I need and sometimes for what I want too, so I have no complaints about my life.

Q: What was your most memorable point in your career?

A: The most memorable point at my job, I guess how they showed how they appreciated me. I still have the card that I got from the beginning of the year, and it says that this job can function because of you. It’s to that point where you know your coworkers appreciate you, depend on you, and they know when something needs to be done, they can depend on you to do it. They don’t have the chance to say “Ruth, did you do that?”. They know it’s done; I depend on them. Just as much as they depend on me. We mesh together, it’s the small things, showing their appreciation for what I do for them. 

Q: At this point, is this where you thought you would be five years ago?

A: Yes, I did, I thought I would be here five years ago. You know you get promotions; you get bonuses within your job. I have way more responsibility from handling projects, I have accounts that I’m, handling now. I expect that the more you show your worth, the more responsibility that you get within your job. So, I’m exactly where I thought I would be five years ago.

Q: What informed your decision on doing what you’re doing right now?

A: My decision in what I’m doing right now…when you have a degree in biological sciences or research, and when applying for research jobs they want someone with experience. So, the accounting part answered more than the science of my degree. So, that’s why I choose the math path, more so than the science path. Getting my foot in the door for accounting was much easier than getting in the door for science.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: My plans for the future are to live out my years until retirement, no stress no mess!

Q: What advice would you offer to a student, who is undecided about their career path?

A: I would just say, look for different opportunities. When I was younger, I knew nothing about construction like I do now. College is not for everybody, but I have laborers and I have operators that go to the union hall to get their experience, no college education, and these guys are making like 70 and 80 dollars an hour. The laborers are making like 30 to 50 dollars an hour. If they’re doing over time, they’re making 75 dollars an hour. College isn’t for everyone, look into construction, look into the local union and how you can get into it, and that’s what we’re studying now, getting more diversity and getting more people into trade schools. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on school, but you make a lot of money in life. I told them if I knew then what I know now I would be a black female operator for local 8-25 because construction companies have to meet quotas.

Q: How would you describe the state of higher education in America today?

A: The state of higher education is very expensive, and it makes it harder for kids, once they graduate, they’re overloaded with student loans. If they could have some type of relief for these kids when they come out of college. You know you graduate from college and you still have to live at home, because you have to pay off all of this student debt just to survive in life, just to live. I think that’s a big issue with higher education, it’s the cost of it. It doesn’t have to be so high for students to prosper in their future lives. That’s how I feel.

Q: Have you ever traveled to the United States? If so, where? How does life outside compare to the United Sates?

A: I’ve been to Spain, I’ve been the islands, but you know what they say it’s no place like home. You appreciate coming back home, to the freedom. Last time I was in Spain, I was in Barcelona for the Olympics and when you see police officers walking around with machine guns in the streets you know, you think about how free you are at home. Even though they have three lunches and they go back to work and they work late. You appreciate the freedom of being in America and that’s what I love the most our freedom. Most people in other countries want to get to our country to have that same freedom.

Q: What does the future hold for America?

A: With this pandemic, that a good question. I want to hope that the future will be bright for America, once that we get everyone vaccinated. Then we can decide where America goes from there. So many people have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and struggling to feed their families. I would only hope that the future would be brighter than what it is right now, more prosperous and that people will gain back their employment and gain back their lives. We’re the land of the free and home of the brave, I believe we will get there again.

Q: Are you interested in politics? If not, why?

A: I’m not really a political person, don’t get it twisted, I will vote and will have my opinion. However, I leave politics to the politicians.

Q: What is your take on politics and the future of American democracy?

A: Well, right now I hate to say it, but it’s a beautiful thing not to see Trump in office anymore and President Biden in office. I’m hoping that’s a step in the right direction, four the last four years. I have been totally embarrassed to have him as a president. I can’t tell you how much relief I have in my heart, and I have for America to not be so stressed. Every time your president comes on tv, you don’t know what’s going to come out of his mouth (referring to Former President Trump). So, I have hope for our political system right now.

Q: As of right now, how are you responding to the outbreak of COVID-19?

A: Well at first, I was working strictly at home, when the outbreak first happened. Most of the people in the office are back full force in the office, but I just do two days in the office and two days at home. I’m still careful, I still know it’s out there, with the grace of God I never caught COVID, and with the grace of God, I hope I never have to never experience COVID. Myself, my family, or anyone. Now that the vaccine is out, I hope that the deaths calm down you know the poor families that have lost. I can’t begin to understand how they feel.

Q: So, how are you handling the stay-at-home order? For example, is it hard to balance work and your personal in the same setting?

A: Well, the only thing is I tell people I work harder at home than I do in the office because in the office there is a cut-off time. You know you work a certain time, if everybody is heading out, they’ll say hey Ruth we’re heading out it’s time to go or they always give me “Ruth T-minus five”. When you’re working from home, there is no T-minus five. When I’m taking a break, I might put in a load of laundry and get back to work, or it could be 8 o’clock at night and I remember I forgot to do something and I’m back in my home office. So, I think I work longer hours being at home, but it’s kind of convenient being at home also.

Q: What keeps you going during these trying times?

A: Oh, faith and God keeps me going. I know that he will carry you through.

Q: How can the government better handle the situation?

A: Well, I think with the vaccines being out I like to think that they’re doing the best that they can. I’m not them so I can’t judge if they’re being forthright in giving the vaccine to everybody. It’s slow but it’s sure.

Q: What are your hobbies and extracurricular activities?

A: I love to read, I like jigsaw puzzles, and believe it or not at my age I like to color. I love coloring it’s a peace of mind. Of course, I like to travel but I can’t right now due to COVID, so I read about traveling. Sometimes I’ll sit back or watch a movie. You have to be safe during these trying times, but I like to travel and go to different places. I like spending time with my family and right we can’t do that as much. Thank God for modern technology, we can Zoom, we can text, we can call.

Q: What is your favorite book that you read?

A: My favorite book that I’ve read was “The Great Small Things” by Jodi Picoult.

Q: Why?

A: Because it addressed a lot of issues in modern society, especially with the prejudice among people and how some of the obstacles in your life help you overcome what you were taught by your family. I think prejudice is taught because as a child we don’t see color. I didn’t see when I was little, but by experiences and dealing with different people, whatever you were taught in society it can be turned around and that was what that book was about. You were taught one way, but a life experience changes your whole way of thinking?

Q: Was that book about a nurse, taking care of a white child and the parents were opposed to that?

A: She was taking care of a white child and something happened to that child, so they blamed her, but other things came out and it was because of prejudice. It was because of how they were taught, they didn’t want to take their child to the hospital and they didn’t want that black nurse to touch their child, they wanted the white nurse. The black nurse ended up saving that child.

Q: Is “Meet Joe Black” still your favorite movie? 

A: “Meet Joe Black” is definitely still my favorite movie; death was leaving, and he was going to take a young lady with him because he loved her so much. The father had said something to him, to make him change his mind. Death thought that he could never be loved, she didn’t know that he was death at the time. He said something to her, that made her realize that he was death. He was walking away, but he turned around and said, “thank you for loving me”, because he never felt that. She said to him, that feels more like a goodbye and it was a goodbye because he was leaving her there to live.

Q: What is your philosophy on life and what principles get you grounded?

A: Life is very simple, you love the ones that love you and you pray for the ones that don’t, because you’re not going to have everybody on your front pew, and everyone doesn’t deserve to be on your front pew. But those who are on your front pew, those are your people, those are the ones that you love. That’s all we can do.

Q: Let’s end this interview, with a memorable quote from you. How would describe yourself to the world? Begin the sentence with I am.

A: I am a person that appreciates life. I heard this saying “I was sad when I had no shoes until I saw the man, who had no feet”. So, you gotta understand whatever trials and tribulations that you’re going through, there’s somebody that’s going through something worst. You thank God and as long as you’re six feet above, you’re blessed. You are blessed and you are highly favored, and that’s my philosophy on life. You have bare feet; you appreciate those bare feet because you can turn right around and see someone with no feet.

It was interesting interviewing Ms. Duncan. Perhaps the most intriguing of her answers was when she discussed a unique saying. Her overall message to her readers is to never give up on your future endeavors. She once had goals of being a doctor, unfortunately, her plans did not work out. However, instead of feeling discouraged, she feels blessed and she is grateful for where life has taken. She wants the readers to appreciate life as much as she does, but most of all, to be appreciative of where life has taken them. After all, you are six feet above and that is a blessing, within itself.

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