She had a smile that wouldn’t quit and a hug for everybody.
Ruby Grace — who by example reminded a newsroom for more than 20 years how to treat people — has died at home with her family. She was 78.
She joined the Sun Herald newsroom in 1989, and worked her way to senior staff assistant, as well as newsroom receptionist, before she retired in 2009.
But during those 20 years, she had a positive impact on thousands of people on the Mississippi Coast and elsewhere who called the Sun Herald and talked with her. It seemed that no one left a conversation with Ruby Grace without at least feeling better.
Reporters and news photographers called her a surrogate mom.
Ruby was a smiling, warm spot in a fluorescent-lit newsroom that was busy dealing with conflicts and tragedy. She remembered what was important.
Parents and loved ones always seemed to call reporters on deadline, when stress was highest, but before passing the call along to them, Ruby would go to their desk and say, “It’s your mom. Be nice.”
After retirement, she called staffers on their birthday, disguising her voice for fun and wishing them a happy birthday.
Long-time reporter Anita Lee said, “Ruby Grace lived rather than preached her faith. Her example taught us all to be better people.
“She was our newsroom mother — comforting, congratulating, encouraging and inspiring us all, always ... I often heard Mrs. Ruby on the phone with readers, irate with us, some politician or the general problems of life. Her voice was soothing as a waterfall during those calls and I believe most of the callers hung up feeling better, as we all did, after talking to her.”
She raised three children of her own in Gulfport — Raymond Grace, Roman Grace and Robin Singleton. Many knew Roman as a starting offensive lineman at Gulfport High, four-year starter at Mississippi State University, All-SEC, assistant coach and then member of the Gulfport Sports Hall of Fame.
Her family had this to say: “There’s nothing that all who came into contact with her didn’t know within the first few seconds of meeting her. She was exactly who you saw her to be, an open book. She loved everyone.”
During her illness of several months, her home was flooded with well-wishers from her churches, family, work and community. Family had to finally limit access to her about a week ago and people felt the loss.
“Her attitude was amazing,” said Marie Harris, retired editorial editor with the Sun Herald. “She did thrive on people coming to see her. So many people loved her. But all our good intentions and expression of love were exhausting.”
Tracy Yanez, with Mississippi Power, was her friend for decades who first encouraged Ruby to apply for the Sun Herald job. It required typing weddings, obituaries and other community news into a computer.
Yanez said Ruby bought a computer, learned how to type through a community education course and applied. She didn’t hit the mark for typing in the first round, but got better.
When she applied in person, however, the senior news assistant at the time was so swamped with calls that she asked Ruby to answer one during the interview. The supervisor heard the way Ruby dealt with the customer, and was sold. Ruby got the job.
Pam Firmin, former features editor, remembers Ruby as the newsroom handyman.
“She could fix a stapler, a printer, a broken chair. She said the ability to see how to fix things was a gift from God,” Firmin said.
But it was her sincere care for people that couldn’t be duplicated, Firmin said. “Family and God came first in her life, but sometimes you couldn’t tell who was family, she treated everyone so nice.”
As receptionist, she was the first person the public reached when calling the newsroom. She knew so many people just by their voices on the phone.
When Hurricane Katrina damaged her church in 2005, another church absorbed it and she joined that one with enthusiasm. When her church resumed, she attended both.
So she sang in the choir and attended services at two churches, Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church and Riley Chapel United Methodist Church, friends said.
She was a big Saints fan, she supported breast cancer awareness and advocated for mental health on the Coast.
Retired executive editor Stan Tiner said: “The Sun Herald was exceedingly blessed to have shared Miss Ruby with her family, church, and community for a long season.
“Visitors, and our newsroom, were greeted each day with that sweet smile and caring spirit that were her gift to all who came our way. She was the glue that held us close, and the crossroad where we connected with the public. Her diplomatic skills were beyond compare.”
Executive Editor Blake Kaplan called her the newsroom den mother and said, “I can still hear her voice answer the phone in the way only she could.”
Former Publisher Roland Weeks said: “I thank God for the privilege of knowing Ms. Ruby, and for being her friend. She was, in so many ways, a beautiful lady ... I have been around for a long, long time. I have a short list of men and women who stand out because they are, in every way that is important, ‘good.’ Ms. Ruby is a prominent member of that small group.”
She had a special way of responding to loved ones.
“It’s true, every time you said, ‘I love you,’ she would say, ‘I love you more,’ ” said reporter Margaret Baker, “and that’s how she ended conversations. It’s what she told me the last time I talked with her.”
Her faith was strong and she let people know how important that was to her.
Former reporter Melissa Scallan said in a text, after learning of Ruby’s death: “And when God said, ‘I love you Ruby.’ She said, ‘I love you more!’ ”
JT Hall Funeral Home in Gulfport is handling her arrangements.