Ruth Samuelson, 57, died on Monday after a fight with ovarian cancer. Ruth’s resume was impressive. She served four years on the County Commission of Mecklenburg County, the most populous county in North Carolina. Then, in 2006, the voters of Charlotte elected her to represent them in the North Carolina House of Representatives. She was a Republican, and the House was then controlled by Democrats, but she quickly worked to build relations across the aisle. She was a rock-solid advocate for life while in the House, but she also worked relentlessly on other issues, especially the environment. In a front-page article on Ruth the day after her death, the Charlotte Observer noted that she ended up earning the endorsement of both the Sierra Club and the National Rifle Association.
This ability to make peace with all sides soon turned her into a major force in statewide politics. She was instrumental in helping Republicans win control of both houses of the N.C. Legislature in 2010. Many people believe she could have become the Speaker of the House, arguably the most powerful political position in North Carolina. She was also on a lot of people’s short list for statewide office.
According to John Rustin, the president of the North Family Policy Council (NCFPC), Ruth “distinguished herself as a highly intelligent, conscientious and hardworking lawmaker respected by all members of the North Carolina General Assembly. She championed pro-life and pro-family initiatives, often serving as the primary sponsor of these bills and giving moving and personal testimony as she presented legislation to her colleagues.”
But it was not just her professional and political resume that made Ruth a “person of peace”—to use language from the Gospel of Luke. Jere Royal, the NCFPC’s Counsel and Director of Community Impact, remembered this revealing anecdote about Ruth’s tenure in the legislature: “While other members kept jars of candy on their desks in the House chamber to provide a boost of energy during extended sessions, Ruth kept a jar of Scripture verses and hymns from which she drew strength and encouragement.”
Despite her political success, and the likelihood of even greater victories to come, in 2013 she surprised many political observers by announcing she would not seek a certain re-election, saying she wanted to devote herself instead to “faith, family, and philanthropy.”
About that time, I found myself on an airplane with Ruth and her husband Ken—coincidentally, some would say, though I’m sure Ruth would say providentially. On that flight I told them about a Colorado Springs-based organization called Excellence in Giving, a company that helps high-capacity philanthropists give their money away effectively and in ways that are consistent with their personal values. Ruth wanted to know more, and within a few days I introduced her to the company’s president, Al Mueller. It did not take Al long to recognize what a special person Ruth was, and he soon asked her to open an office for the firm in Charlotte. For the next couple of years, every time I saw Al, he would say something along the lines of “Warren, I owe you. Ruth has been just so great to work with. . . .”
These anecdotes help explain why Ruth’s friends, and indeed the entire city of Charlotte, was shocked by her announcement seven months ago that she had stage IV ovarian cancer, though even then, in her last public statements and facing what she knew was a grim prognosis, she shared a powerful testimony of her love for Christ. Her death this week was an even bigger shock.
We need more people like Ruth in the public square. The fact that we today have one fewer is causing me to have some tough conversations with God. If I depended on my human understanding, it would be very hard for me to wonder if God had not just made a big, fat mistake. But I also know that Ruth, could she hear me say that, would have no trouble getting right in my face and scolding me.
So rather than depend on my human understanding, I pray that God—in His Good Providence—will use her story to inspire many to rise up and continue her peacemaking work.
Ruth’s funeral takes place today in Charlotte. It will be a difficult day for her family and for many who love her. We will be consoled, if only slightly, by the words of one of Ruth’s favorite hymns, “In Christ Alone.” It is the hymn she recited on the floor of the North Carolina House of Representatives in her final speech to that chamber. The last verse sums up Ruth Samuelson’s life, and I close with it as a fitting memorial to a life well-lived, and a person who will be sorely missed:
No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow’r of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow’r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow’r of Christ I’ll stand.
(“In Christ Alone” lyrics by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend, 2001)