By SHERRY DIGMON
On hearing of Ruth Harrell’s passing Thursday, December 31, one of her friends said, “So much knowledge passed with her.” It could be said of Ruth Harrell that a library died when she died.
Ruth lived between Atmore and Flomaton, but her home was all of Escambia County, and she worked tirelessly to improve healthcare for her fellow residents. Her work in healthcare and the nursing field in particular garnered her statewide recognition.
In January 2019, Ruth received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Atmore Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting.
Her good friend and fellow church member (Atmore First Assembly of God) Patty Helton Davis presented the award. Following are excepts from the nomination letter and Patty’s comments:
When Ruth was working on her Masters in Health Administration at UAB as a college student, the class was told that their guest lecturer was the leading authority for public health nursing in the state. (That was Ruth.)
A businessperson in Montgomery was desperate for help in scheduling an appointment with the Director of Public Health to discuss healthy active lifestyle initiatives and was running into many obstacles. Ruth offered her assistance, and you can only imagine this business owner’s surprise when they walked into the largest RSA building in Montgomery and it was like the parting of the Red Sea when Ruth walked through the door. Always humble, Ruth failed to tell the business owner that she was the Director of Public Health for the Nursing Division.
Ruth’s service to nursing was far reaching. She was elected to the State Personnel Board for nine years, president of Alabama Public Health Association, and national president of State Directors of Nursing, and she received what seemed like every nursing, medical, and community service known to man.
Ruth mentored countless people over the years especially in the medical and nursing field emphasizing that it wasn’t a choice but a calling. It was about helping your neighbor and community – going beyond the walls of an institution or facility. It was educating and giving your time for medical prevention so that your community has power over their health.
Ruth fought for Atmore to have better facilities and access to the best healthcare possible. She spread a wide net of dedication, involvement and influence that was exerted all across our state and Escambia County, and positively impacted so may lives in Atmore.
As Chairman of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County and Chairman of the Escambia County Health Care Authority, Ruth was passionate about advancing drug abuse awareness and was instrumental in creating the “Drugs Erase Dreams” program – an outreach program providing positive messaging to Escambia County middle and high school students over the last 10 years.
For over a decade, she led the Health Care Session for the Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Atmore.
Ruth knew that everyone should have access to quality healthcare no matter what their financial status. Because of this and with her guidance, a charitable pharmacy was created almost 20 years ago through Catholic Services that serves Atmore and all of Escambia County. Within a seven-year period, over $2 million worth of free medication was repackaged to over 1,500 citizens in Atmore and the other area towns.
When Ruth realized that transportation was needed for expectant mothers and children who would otherwise miss or delay medical care appointments, she helped create Wheels of Wellness. Over 620 low-income patients from Atmore have been taken to appointments in Mobile, Pensacola, and Birmingham thanks to the non-profit Ruth helped create.
Patty concluded her comments that evening noting that Ruth indeed served as “The Hands and Feet of Jesus.”
The flood of Facebook messages as the word of Ruth’s passing spread attest to the impact she had on others.
Ruth Harrell’s complete obituary is on page 3 of this edition of Atmore News.