PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

September 27, 2013

Ruth Parker Graves


The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR —   Ruth Parker Graves, 78, of Port Arthur, President Emerita of Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), passed from this life September 10, 2013 in Annandale, Virginia, with family by her side.  She was preceded in death by her parents, Thomas B. Parker and Eunice (Chardin) Parker, and brother, Earl William Parker.  

   After graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School, Ruth immersed herself in college life at Baylor University, where she was active in the student government and community projects while earning a B.A. in history, English and philosophy. She went on to earn an M.A. in history and literature from the University of Texas (Austin).  

   She had a keen mind and a love of knowledge that made her an excellent college lecturer.  But her first jobs were a far cry from academia.  She taught preschoolers, then children with special needs, then high school drop-outs.  From these experiences, she developed great admiration for classroom teachers and the special brand of creativity that motivates children to learn.

   Ruth also helped set up child care programs for migrant farmworker families in Texas, and in 1961 went to Washington, D.C. to work with the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity.  She quickly discovered that she loathed bureaucracy, yet still believed that innovative programs could make the world a better place – if grounded in practicality and common sense. Over the next 14 years, she held a number of challenging public and private sector positions that taught her to navigate the seas of red tape and the whirlpools of politics.

   But even as she learned how to get things done within the Capital Beltway, and plied its waters  for more than 50 years, some part of her was ever anchored near the Gulf Coast of Texas.  She said there was probably some salt water in her veins.

   Ruth joined RIF in 1975 and retired in 1997. As Executive Director and then National President, she guided the fledgling organization into national prominence.  She expanded the reach of the nonprofit children’s literacy organization from 313,000 to 2.7 million young people per year.

   During her tenure she enlarged the organization’s mission to help meet the literacy needs of families, including teen and low income parents, and children in homeless shelters. To assist in this outreach, Ruth guided the organization into alliances with the U.S. government, major corporations and foundations, and hundreds of service organizations.  Her profound respect for grass roots wisdom helped increase the number of local RIF volunteers from 8,000 to over 200,000.  Her management of RIF earned the organization a rare “A+” rating from the American Institute of Philanthropy.

   She received numerous honors and awards for her work, but was particularly proud to be named (in 2001) as one of the Alumni 150, a special recognition by the Baylor University Alumni Association for graduates of significant achievement.

Admired for her leadership and advocacy for children, she was much beloved by family and friends for her kindness, grace and ability to surprise. She had an astute, analytical mind, was a strong writer and a ruthless editor.  But she could also summon her Southern charm when "pecan pie" sweetness was required.

  She gave more than a thousand speeches and interviews on RIF’s behalf, yet she was an intensely private person, shy at heart.  She knew how to be a proper lady, and generally was, but also had a quick wit and sometimes naughty sense of humor. Though not especially sentimental, she faithfully remembered birthdays, was a generous and creative gift- giver, and often saluted her Gulf coast heritage by including a “lagniappe.”

   She is survived by her husband Glenn;  son Christopher and his wife Stephanie; and two grandsons, Douglas and Henry.  Local family include niece Mary Jennings and husband Danny of Rosharon, and  nephews Tommy Parker and wife Pat of Bridge City, and Brad Parker and wife Michelle of Groves.

   In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), P.O. Box 33728, Washington, D.C. 20033 or through the Donate/Ways to Give pages at www.rif.org.


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