Joan B. Ruffins, who started summering at Nineva Beach in Sag Harbor in 1961 and moved there for good in 1992, died of complications from lung cancer on May 31 at Stony Brook University Hospital. She was 81 and had been diagnosed in the fall of last year.
Ms. Ruffins, who was born in Chicago on May 30, 1932, to O’Dell Young and the former Vivian Bowman, spent her teenage years in Queens and Brooklyn and attended the High School of Music and Art in Manhattan. A painter, she went to college at Cooper Union, a path also followed by her future husband, Reynold Ruffins, the illustrator. The two met at a dance and discovered their mutual interests.
“As a young woman she was very beautiful,” Mr. Ruffins said yesterday. The couple were married in May 1954. When Ms. Ruffins returned to Cooper Union that fall, she was met with an unpleasant surprise.
“The then-dean of students suggested that she leave school,” Mr. Ruffins said. The reason given to her was that she had taken the place of a male student when she was first admitted. According to the family, it was an act of prejudice that was rectified 25 years later, when Cooper Union bestowed upon Ms. Ruffins a certificate of completion for her studies.
The couple lived in St. Albans, Queens, and raised four children, all of whom survive: Todd Ruffins of Sag Harbor, Lynn Cave of Brooklyn, Ben Ruffins of Queens, and Seth Ruffins of Altadena, Calif. Six grandchildren also survive her.
Mr. Ruffins first heard about Nineva Beach from his brother. The couple were drawn to the sense of freedom they felt there. “The freedom for us, for our children, to walk on the beach, the camaraderie of the place,” Mr. Ruffins said of one of the earliest black neighborhoods in Sag Harbor.
When she was younger, Ms. Ruffins focused on raising her children, but as they grew older she returned to painting with acrylics and went to work as a bookkeeper. She enjoyed reading, gardening, cooking, and entertaining. She spread her enthusiasm for cooking, and for wine, to anyone who was interested in learning.
The couple enjoyed traveling, in particular to the mountains of Vermont, the countryside of Michigan, and, most of all, the local bays and ocean. The family loved sailing.
Although she had arthritis in her later years, until the last months of her life she found joy in walking on the beach.
Ms. Ruffins was cremated. The family is planning a memorial service at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton on July 20.
Donations in her memory can be made to the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, P.O. Box 2725, Sag Harbor 11963.