Politics & Government

NC lawmakers remember Ruth Samuelson, a ‘velvet hammer’ who worked across the aisle

Rep. Ruth Samuelson listens to a House debate in 2013.
Rep. Ruth Samuelson listens to a House debate in 2013. cseward@newsobserver.com

North Carolina House lawmakers offered heartfelt tributes Wednesday to the late Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican remembered for her charisma, convictions and Christianity.

The House and Senate voted unanimously for a resolution commending Samuelson, who died in January at the age of 57.

“To serve with Ruth was to serve with an example of everything a Christian and a public servant should be,” Republican Rep. Bill Brawley of Matthews told colleagues.

GOP Sen. Jeff Tarte of Cornelius called her “the absolute epitome of a role model, of being good and doing good.”

Samuelson, who died after an eight-month battle with ovarian cancer, rose to leadership in the House but left in 2014 at the height of her influence. An original champion of Charlotte’s Little Sugar Creek Greenway, she was remembered for her passion for the environment and strong opposition to abortion. But mostly she was remembered as a lawmaker whose collegiality was contagious.

“Ruth is one of the few politicians who never acted out of ego, never acted out of self-aggrandizement, never acted for glory,” said Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat who, like Samuelson, graduated from West Charlotte High School. “She did what she thinks is right.”

“Just being in Ruth’s presence, people always realized there was something special in this woman,” said Democratic Rep. Becky Carney of Charlotte. Some recalled that she had memorized 650 Bible verses, and taken them to heart.

GOP Rep. Susan Martin of Wilson County remembered Samuelson’s mentorship. “She was someone who stood on principle and did not back down from what she believed in,” Martin said, adding that some colleagues try to channel “their inner Ruth.”

Some colleagues said Samuelson was just fun to be around. Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Greensboro Democrat and friend, remembered movie nights when the two would go to Raleigh’s Rialto theater. Republican Rep. Jason Saine of Lincolnton said, “Everyday with Ruth was just a bright day.”

The resolution said Samuelson’s “ability to cross political chasms, labels, and lines to bring consensus and solutions for a better North Carolina earned her the admiration and respect of her colleagues and the nickname ‘the Velvet Hammer’ due to her ability to strongly lead with courage, grace, and kindness.”

Republican Sen. Dan Bishop, who succeeded Samuelson on both the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners and the House, called her “a force to be reckoned with.”

Democratic Sen. Floyd McKissick of Durham recalled working with Samuelson when Republicans were still in the minority.

“Her life was cut short way too soon,” he said. “But (for) those of us who knew her … she lives on in our hearts and minds.”

Jim Morrill: 704-358-5059, @jimmorrill