RUTH MYERS: AN APPRECIATION
By George T. Marshall
you ever noticed that the start of the Christmas shopping
season comes earlier and earlier each year? It seems
that retailers want to jumpstart that estimated 40%
of yearly sales as soon as possible. Store displays
go up in September and I’ve heard in-store Christmas
music as early as mid-October. During the month of
November, we are barraged with blinking lights, inflatable
yard displays that blow fake snow, weird novelty items
presenting every variable riff on the Christmas theme,
and advertisements filling television, the internet,
radio, newspapers and magazines. We are saturated
with a commercial view of the holiday that only someone
in a coma could miss. It’s everywhere. There
is no escape: a plasticized sameness permeates and
garishness masks itself as emotion.
Up until recently it was not even considered politically
correct to use the “C” word in advertising.
It was “X-Mas” or the “Holidays.”
When I was a youngster attending Hazard Memorial School
in Newport, run by the St. Joseph’s Church,
the push then was to put “Christ” back
into “X-mas.” That was of course more
years ago than discretion will allow me to admit.
The use of the name has been on a roller coaster over
the years and may have just stabilized (for the moment)
now that retail giant Wal-Mart has opted to use the
very word—Christmas—in its advertising.
I guess that’s progress; calling the event what
it really is.
The message for this specific holiday has been for
years to buy, buy, buy, spend, spend, spend. We put
ourselves into debt during this period. We tend to
overbook our commitments and in the end create a sense
of anxiety that ultimately curbs the very enjoyment
of what should be a festive season. Most of us tend
to breathe a sigh of relief when the holidays end;
just before we confront the inevitable end-of-the-year
bills. It’s all a bit manic, slightly insane,
and we tend to scramble like lemmings looking for
that edge of the cliff. Play Station or X-Box anyone?
It was the garishness, plastic and shallow nature
of the American celebration of Christmas that spurred
a unique individual to change the course of how our
city celebrates the holiday. Her name was Ruth Myers.
Thirty-six years ago, Ruth brought to Newport a concept
that spoke to many who wanted to experience a more
traditional approach to the Christmas holidays in
non-commercial and charitable ways. Ruth founded Christmas
in Newport. Her goal was to create an environment
that brought a sense of simplicity with the use of
clear lights, giving an old-fashioned lit candle feel.
Ruth frequently explained when asked that this was
sparked by her childhood memories of real candles
illuminating the windows of Moravian homes in her
native North Carolina.
Soon, Newport was aglow during the month of December.
Homes now had a sharp distinction from commercial
environments; and in many ways the very simplicity
gave a sense of warmth and calm.
Ruth also provided a foundation with Christmas in
Newport that promoted charitable giving. The arts
and artists linked-up with social service organizations
and concerts, dances, films and a multitude of events
appeared throughout the month of December. Since its
founding hundreds of thousands of dollars have been
raised to help those less fortunate.
And here’s where Ruth was truly unique.
She did not do this for herself. There was no financial
gain. She did this neither to build a business nor
create a name for herself at the expense of others.
She did this because it was something she believed
would be good for the community in which she lived.
She created Christmas in Newport to help others—and
strongly believed that it would return balance to
a community that had lost its sense of tradition and
That was 1970—a different world in Newport;
before the Navy cutbacks, the resultant regional economic
depression, and the rise of tourism and downtown redevelopment.
Funny that 36 years later,
Ruth’s vision and passion are still very much
relevant and needed.
Kennedy Myers was born in Raleigh, NC, on March 26,
1911, to Oscar Clement and Mary (Dowell) Kennedy.
She graduated from Salem Academy in Winston-Salem,
NC and Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. She married
Jacob C. Myers a Captain in the United States Navy.
In 1968, Ruth and her husband moved to Newport. They
were active members of Trinity Church where she sang
in the choir and was a part of the bicentennial commission.
Until the age of 95, Ruth held true to what she loved
and on September 23, 2006, she died peacefully at
This Christmas when you attend a holiday event; whether
it is a dance performance, a concert, a house tour,
diner the Turtle Frolic or even a benefit film screening,
think of Ruth. When you pass a home or business that
is illuminated with clear lights, think of Ruth. When
you hear or read of Christmas in Newport, think of
Ruth Myers left a legacy that has touched hearts and
We all should strive to leave such a legacy!
Thank you Ruth.
About the Author:
George T. Marshall is the Producing Director of the
Rhode Island-based Flickers Arts Collaborative, the
creators of the annual Rhode Island International
Film Festival for which he also serves as Executive
Director. He teaches film and communications at Rhode
Island College and speech communications and documentary
filmmaking at Roger Williams University. He is a director,
writer, producer of commercials and industrials. He
is also a member of the Board for Christmas in Newport.
He can be reached at <firstname.lastname@example.org>