Saturday, April 01, 2023

Honoring an ambassador for civility

| May 19, 2021 1:00 AM

Ruthie Johnson didn't need help carrying the 25 copies of The Press she'd just purchased, but any excuse for a few more minutes with her would work just fine.

In that issue of the paper was a story about her son Duke, a physician by training who was flexing entrepreneurial muscles with his supplements targeted at reducing inflammation. Talk about inflamed: Ruthie's pride in her son swelled her heart, triggered a light in her eyes and a grin on her face.

The reporter carried the stack of papers out to Ruthie's rig, the one with the UCLA license plates. She opened the door, offered thanks and a hug, then sauntered around to the driver's seat. She'd parked precisely one inch from the curb in front of The Press and hesitated not a moment in climbing up behind the wheel and heading home.

She was 94 at the time.

When Ruthie passed away last week, the region's foremost ambassador for civility perished.

Ruthie grew up poor, fatherless at the age of 10 in the rugged Silver Valley, and went on to raise a great family with her husband of 75 years, Wayne. She worked the Republican side of the aisle during her career in politics, but public service was her passion. When it came to the political preferences of her constituents, Ruthie was color blind; she saw neither red nor blue.

The headline on the front-page story marking her death nailed it: Ruthie Johnson lived an American dream. It was accompanied by a photo of Ruthie as a little girl on the porch of her family's tarpaper shack, and another of grown-up Ruthie with President Ronald Reagan.

Yes, she came a long way.

Ruthie lived an American dream, but more importantly, she shared the dream with countless others. Part of that dream is making the most of your potential. As former congressman and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter often remarked, the best hand up is the one at the end of your own sleeve.

But Ruthie was much, much more than a bundle of realized potential. She was compassion itself. After a fire-and-brimstone debate, she was able to reach across the chasm of differences and connect, human being to human being, with kindness and sometimes even tenderness.

Her loss hurts, deeply. What the world needs now is more Ruthie Johnsons, not fewer.

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