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RUTH MYERS: AN APPRECIATION

By George T. Marshall


Have 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 heart.


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.


Ruth 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 home.


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.


Ruth Myers left a legacy that has touched hearts and minds.


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 <flicksart@aol.com>