Ruth Culbertson Samuelson
Rotary Club of Charlotte-South
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November 4, 1959 – January 23, 2017
Ruth Culbertson Samuelson, who entered politics in Charlotte and rose to its top ranks in North Carolina before walking away three years ago, has died at 57.
Forthright and strong in her faith, Samuelson revealed in June that she had ovarian cancer. “I want people to know that God is my good friend,” she said before she died.
Samuelson, a Republican, was a Mecklenburg County commissioner for four years before being elected to the N.C. House in 2006.
Ruth Samuelson lived by two mottos: Reflect Christ and Pack Light, for you never know what the future holds.
She embraced those principles through a life of public and political service, and a brief struggle with ovarian cancer that ended with her death on Monday, January 23, 2017. She was comforted until the end by her loving family and her faith.
Ruth was born on Nov. 4, 1959, the second of Bob and Peggy Culbertson’s four children. She grew up in Charlotte, getting her passion for activism from her parents, if not their political leanings. Her father served on the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board. Her mother was the first woman to chair the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission. Both were committed to sending their kids to public schools in the midst of the struggle over integration. In an era of busing, Ruth attended six schools by the time she graduated from West Charlotte High School, deepening her sensitivity toward other people’s journeys. She never became the “radical liberal feminist” that her mother, half-jokingly, hoped she might. But Ruth embraced the cause of racial reconciliation and fought to preserve the environment, citing her leadership in creating the Little Sugar Creek Greenway as one of her proudest accomplishments. She credits her parents with raising her to speak up and fight for what she believed in, even if it was from the Republican side of the aisle. Her parents were so proud of her.
Ruth earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communications from UNC Chapel Hill in 1981, though she took home more than a diploma: She met fellow Tar Heel Ken Samuelson at a Campus Crusade for Christ meeting. They were married on July 18, 1981, the start of what both agreed was a perfect union, full of fun and adventure. In the days before her passing, she’d say the only bad part about going to heaven is that he wouldn’t be there. He’d turn to her and say, “At least for awhile.”
Ruth began her career in the securities/insurance business, but found her true calling in politics. She served as a Mecklenburg County Commissioner from 2000 to 2004 before getting elected to the N.C. House in 2006. She represented her south Charlotte district for four terms. She rose steadily through the ranks, her conservative voice resonating even as legislators from both parties praised her gift for negotiating. She became Republican Conference leader and chair of the Banking and Environment committees. She was a strong contender to become the first female Speaker of the House when she decided in 2013 not to seek re-election. Just as she felt called to politics, she felt called to come home, to be closer to their four grown children and their families, and to her aging parents.
She was working in Charlotte for Excellence in Giving, helping donors make wise charitable decisions, when the diagnosis came in June. Stage 4 ovarian cancer.
Ruth is survived by her parents, Bob and Peggy Culbertson of Charlotte; her husband, Ken, who has worked for years with Ruth’s father in the life insurance business; their four children – Bobby Samuelson and his wife, McKinsey, of Charlotte; David Samuelson and his wife, Courtney, of Fayetteville; Joy Bennett and her husband, Chad, of Charlotte; and Alex Cardiel of Chattanooga, Tenn.; four grandchildren – Ford, Margaret Ruth, Eva and Mason; three siblings – Ewell Culbertson and his wife, Lauren, of Delta, Colo.; Laura Thomas and her husband, Bob, of Waxhaw; and John Culbertson and his wife, Leslie, of Charlotte; and seven nieces and nephews – Amos, Rosa, Bruce, Robert, MacRae, Luke and Julian. There are many beloved relatives on Ken’s side who also were part of this tight-knit family. Such was their passion for children who lacked the love of a mom and dad that Ruth and Ken became foster parents. In 1988, when they adopted Joy in Chile, Ruth came home with a near-fatal case of typhoid fever. She survived, and the brush with death reminded her of what mattered most in her life.
Ruth’s family is deeply grateful for the love and care shown by Dr. Kellie Schneider and everyone at Novant Health.
What a life of achievement, and something far greater…
She served on more than 20 boards and committees. Among her many honors, she was named Legislator of the Year by the Governor’s Wildlife Federation, inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame by the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Club, and earned North Carolina’s highest award for public service, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. But more precious than any of that were the memories that made her smile, especially as death closed in: Hiking, riding bikes and collecting music boxes. Attending the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “Christmas in May,” the Samuelsons called it. The annual getaway to the family mountain home in Linville after Christmas. The drive back home each week from the N.C. House in Raleigh, when she’d pull off for ice cream, sometimes a hot fudge sundae when she felt like splurging.
On the Saturday that Ruth and Ken sat down in their living room to get all this down on paper, she had just come from an outing with her sister, Laura. They shopped a little, and stopped by the cemetery where Ruth will be laid to rest, to take a look. For Ruth, it was a good day, one that was like most any other in a life cut short: Full, and filled at the end not with sorrow but with peace.
If you would like to make a donation in Ruth’s memory please contact the Charlotte Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 33000, Charlotte, N.C. 28233. It’s a Christian-based, residential recovery program for those dealing with addiction.