We Need More Ruth Samuelsons

Publication
The Charlotte Observer
Author
Elizabeth Dyar Stiff and Victoria Bragg Ludwig
Published
Jan 24, 2017

Thousands of women marched on Saturday in Washington and cities like ours to make their voices heard. Their marches are a response to an often- discouraging political environment, where real change can sometimes seem long and arduous. Women around the country have struggled to find ways to make their voices heard above partisan politics, and are rarely successful. It's even rarer to see female elected officials and community leaders who stand out as effective beacons of change in the political arena. In Charlotte, however, we've had the honor of seeing one of our own women - Ruth Samuelson - make a big difference.

You may know her as your former representative, or the "velvet hammer" legislator who was able to strike hard for justice with grace and poise. You may recognize her as the namesake of a stretch of the Sugar Creek Greenway; or as the wife of Ken; or as mother of Bobby, David, Joy and Alex.

To us, Ruth was our friend and mentor. In a world seething with dissent, she was a woman who showed us how to live every day with courage, conviction and kindness.

Consistently, we saw Ruth look beyond party labels and personal differences with rare authenticity. She did so selflessly - with no ulterior motive - because she genuinely cared about the people with whom she worked.

During her time as a Mecklenburg County commissioner, she saw the potential in the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. She worked to rally property managers, landowners and funding to make that little stretch of land a place that would enrich all of our lives.

As a legislator, Ruth often tackled contentious issues head-on. She had a gift for bringing all sides of an issue together and requiring a path toward compromise. We saw her do this successfully in the midst of the Women's Right to Know legislation, and again as the coal ash issue took center stage. But even when the General Assembly was navigating through some of its most divisive legislation, she was a friend who would forgo a political reception to lend an ear or shoulder in support of a best girlfriend - a legislator of the opposite party.

Ruth was just as tough as she was compassionate. She stood up for her beliefs without fear. She saw respectful debates as the American political system at work. But even when the world around her took a negative tone, Ruth remained a pillar of graciousness both publicly and privately. As young women in our 20s and 30s, Ruth showed us what it looked like to be a strong, opinionated woman who championed everyone around her, including the men with whom she worked every day.

Ruth was a woman who lived by her own rules. She did not define herself by the people around her or her accomplishments. Ruth's identity was rooted in her unshakable faith. She found that her relationship with the Lord had given her an identity that couldn't be taken away, or changed or belittled. And so, she was free to be kind and sometimes overlooked, to break the rules and speak her mind, and to do things her way. Through her faith, she was free to serve her neighbors, her city and her state without needing or requiring anything in return.

Ruth was a true statesman.

We need more Ruths in the world - especially in this current political climate. We need more people who work to bring about reconciliation and compassion, who chose to build greenways in our cities and bridges of understanding in our communities. And we need women who march - not just on Saturday - and roll up their sleeves, care for their neighbors and help change the world starting right where they live.

May we find inspiration in her grace and conviction, and march on in her memory.

Stiff is partner and co-owner at Native Collaboration. Ludwig is account manager at Eckel & Vaughan. Both were personal and professional friends of Samuelson.

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