Ruth Samuelson, a ‘Velvet Hammer’ Remembered for her Steely Faith

The Charlotte Observer
The Charlotte Observer
Jim Morrill
Jan 27, 2017

More than 1,400 people packed the sanctuary of Charlotte’s First Baptist Church Friday to remember former state lawmaker Ruth Samuelson and celebrate her life of passion and commitment to her religion, family, friends and community.

“She touched so many lives, she made an impact wherever she went,” the Rev. Dave Kulp told the crowd. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, Gov. Roy Cooper, former Gov. Pat McCrory, Mayor Jennifer Roberts – a sorority sister at UNC Chapel Hill – joined other elected officials, family members and longtime friends in paying tribute to Samuelson, who died Monday after an eight-month battle with ovarian cancer. She was 57.

It was a memorial service Samuelson planned herself, choosing every hymn and scripture.

Samuelson was a take-charge personality, a Republican who rose to leadership in the N.C. House but left in 2014 at the height of her influence. She was remembered as a champion of the environment, a strong opponent of abortion and a one-time nonconformist who liked to wear bib overalls.

Tillis called her “a velvet hammer.”

“She was a mentor to me, she made me a better leader,” Tillis, the former Republican House speaker, said in a eulogy. “She preferred ‘firm and flexible.’ I preferred the ‘firm and not so flexible’ approach.”

Tillis, whose voice broke several times, recalled once watching Samuelson scurry around the House floor in search of votes. He said he called her to the dais and joked, “You run like a girl.” Some time later, Samuelson approached him again and plopped down a pair of high-heeled shoes.

“Put these on and let’s see how you run,” she told him.

Friend Connice Dyar recalled the time Samuelson, a big fan of NASCAR, ran into her favorite driver at a charity event. Although she didn’t know Tony Stewart, she asked him to dance.

“I don’t dance but thank you,” Stewart replied according to Dyar.

Samuelson started walking away and turned around and smiled at Stewart. “You’ll be sorry,” she said.

Bobby Samuelson remembered the 15 years his mother home-schooled him and his siblings. That included interactive lessons like “the photon dance.” Samuelson was remembered most of all for her faith. There were several allusions to the fact that Samuelson not only had memorized 650 Bible verses but taken them all to heart.

“Mom was a model of Christ in action,” Bobby Samuelson said.

In his own eulogy, Ken Samuelson said his wife kept a regular journal, which he never saw until the final days of her illness. He described the entries as “daily love letters to God.” He read the entry from May 27, when a scan showed tumors the size of tennis balls. There was no self-pity. No bitterness.

“The CT scan was very different than I expected,” she wrote. “…I know You love us. Be my hope, be my comfort and be my great physician.”

He also recalled a hymn that his wife quoted on the House floor after saying goodbye to her colleagues on her last day in the General Assembly.

“In Christ alone my hope is found,” she said. “… No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me.”

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