My big sister, Ruth Culbertson Samuelson, died last week. She had been battling stage 4 ovarian cancer, and our family had been preparing for this moment. When Ruth passed, she was at her home with her best friend, Connice Dyar. Ruth’s husband, Ken, was in the room next to her asleep. Connice said Ruth’s heart rate picked up and she got an expression on her face that Connice reminded her of Ruth saying “I know what I am doing! I got this!”
That’s my sister. Many of you know her as a dedicated community leader and impassioned politician. A Republican, Ruth served as a Mecklenburg County commissioner for four years and was then elected to the N.C. house in 2006, where she served until 2013. She had a powerful faith and was committed to many social causes, including racial reconciliation and preserving the environment. She often cited helping create the Little Sugar Creek Greenway as one of her proudest accomplishments.
To me, Ruth was a person of opposites who managed to make both sides work. She was bossy but fundamentally a servant. As a legislator, she was endorsed by both the NRA and the Sierra Club. She managed money for millionaires but gave away nearly everything she owned.
With over 650 bible verses that she put to memory, and always ready to meditate on one, or share one on the floor of the legislature – she was powerful in her convictions to faith. Yet Ruth was open minded, especially if an idea was novel and delivered with tact. It was almost as if she could will things to happen. Ruth did what she said she was going to do and did not pass the buck. Ruth proved what she said in action with grace – so to me, she was the essence of the modern southern female strength personified.
The last time I saw her was January 19th. I was in Raleigh when her son Bobby called me to say her time was short. I rushed back to Charlotte. That night I visited and found Ruth with her family sitting on the bed with her. She was sleeping peacefully as we talked fondly about her when her son David came in and whispered in her ear. Her eyes opened wide for the first time that day. All four of her children nudged in closer to her chest and she feebly rubbed their heads saying, “Wow,” and “I understand.” She looked at us all individually and smiled between winces of pain.
Always an achiever, in high school Ruth would ride her bike to the American Red Cross after school, eventually being awarded with the volunteer of the year award for the entire country. Frustrated with the immaturity of the boys at West Charlotte High School, she got her GED in 11th grade and applied for and was accepted into UNC Chapel Hill and skipped 12th grade! Chapel Hill was where she more fully developed her religious and political convictions and met her husband.
On Wednesday, Ruth was very tired but still coherent at times. We talked about what an inspiration she was to so many. I said that I wanted her to make me a promise, which she agreed to (doing this not knowing what I was going to ask is not her style). I said that when she gets to heaven, that I wanted her to find my guardian angel and to give him the Heisman Trophy and take over. With her looking over me, I know that I will be in great hands.