Ruth Culbertson Samuelson

January 23, 2017

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 57, comforted until the end by her loving family and her faith. “I want people to know that God is my good friend,” she said before she died.

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.

Though the Samuelsons were active at Uptown Church, the service celebrating her life will be at First Baptist Church, 301 S. Davidson St. near uptown Charlotte, at 2:30 PM Friday, January 27, 2017. The family wanted to make sure there’s room for everyone. Dr. Tom Hawkes of Uptown Church will lead the service. Visitation will follow at First Baptist. The family will also receive friends Thursday evening, January 26, from 5:30 to 7:30 PM at Uptown Church, 926 Elizabeth Ave. (The Great Aunt Stella Center).

Rather than flowers, a gift in Ruth’s memory can be made to Charlotte Rescue Mission, P.O. Box 33000, Charlotte, N.C. 28233. It’s a Christian-based, residential recovery program for those dealing with addiction.

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.

Arrangements are in the care of Kenneth Poe Funeral & Cremation Service, 1321 Berkeley Avenue, Charlotte, NC 28204.   (704) 641-7606. Online condolences at



Share your memories & condolences


  • Sharon Guyer

    Dear Ken and All,
    Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to meet your dear Ruth. I just want you to know that I was inspired just by reading about her! What a wonderful daughter, wife, mother, and public servant! I was especially touched by her Christian witness. May she rest in God's peace and may you know His comfort.
    Sharon Guyer
    Chapel Hill

  • Ann Emmrich

    Dear Bobby, David, Joy, and Alex,
    Sending each of you my love and God's Grace in the recent loss of your Mother, my Friend. May you find comfort in her confident faith and in knowing that God loves you
    and " will never leave you."
    Draw near to Him. You are surely in my prayers.
    With Love and Respect for each of You, Ann Emmrich (Resurrection Christian School).

  • Billy Miller

    I am so grateful for the privilege of knowing Ken and Ruth and their children - from serving as school principal to Bobby, David, Joy, and Alex to working alongside Ruth in the local Republican Party to just being friends and sharing together in the goodness of God. My life is much richer for having known Ruth. She will be sorely missed; indeed, she already is. I thank God, however, for the remarkable imprint and legacy she leaves behind, as well as for the joy and beauty she is now exoeriencing firsthand in the unveiled presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. My condolences and prayers go out to Ken and the family, even as my thanks and worship go to God.

  • Patrick Bouvier Fitzgerald Burris

    While no words can minimize the magnitude and significance of your devastating loss, know that friends, the Charlotte community, and the state mourn with and are available to support you, particularly in our thoughts and prayers. Any life is too short, particualrly when family and live are present. May God bless you, especially during this difficult time.

  • Celeste Moya

    My sincerest condolences to all your family. I know that there are no words that can make this situation any easier, but I will pray for God to grant you the strength to get through this difficult time. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Andy Silver

    Ruth- Even though I only knew of you through my friends, Bob and Peggy, I want to express my gratitude for your life of faith and service. I was always aware that even though you and I voted on certain issues differently, you won the respect of legislators and voters everywhere because of the quality of your heart. And during these contentious times, I thank you for that.

  • Carol Horowitz

    Ruth was a gift to the community. I remember when I was an AP Environmental teacher at MPHS, she graciously allowed me to try out her new Prius! I am so sorry for your loss and ours.

  • Tina Morgan

    Ken, I am so very sorry to hear of your loss. Ruth was in a league of her own and when I left TMG I knew great things were ahead for her. Through the years I would catch news clips of something Ruth had accomplished and it always brought back such fond memories for me of my years working for the family. I have you and your family in my prayers.

  • Clark Neilson

    Thank Ruth for living large and sharing your life with all of us. We will miss you for awhile and look forward to joining you in paradise one day!

  • Betsy Weeks Shaw

    So sorry to read of your loss, Peggy and Bob. My memories of sweet Ruth go back to my babysitting for your four children. Mom, Chuck, and I talk about your family from time to time.

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