I was reading my Journal Star newspaper with my wife ReNae over breakfast as usual Friday morning, May 4, when I learned that Ruth Thone had died.
The previous day, I had sent Ruth an email asking how she was doing. It seemed out of character for her not to send an email or call about her columns every week or two, and I wanted to make sure she was doing OK after the recent death of her husband of nearly 65 years, former Congressman (1971-79) and Nebraska Governor (1979-83) Charley Thone.
Being the editor of Neighborhood Extra for only a few months since its founder and former editor Dennis Buckley retired in February, I didn’t have much time to get to know Ruth well. But I always looked forward to her emails and occasional phone calls that provided a glimpse of her candid, kind, generous, intelligent, thoughtful and independent nature.
She often made me smile as she beat herself up over what she saw as her lack of computer skills at age 86. “If this does not come through, email me and I’ll have a computer-savvy friend come over and send it by at least 5 p.m. Monday,” she once wrote. “I usually have trouble sending my column, so I am thrilled it somehow made its way through,” she wrote on another day.
That desire to do things right also led to rewrites – sometimes two or three times after she emailed her original version.
But Ruth’s writing made its way into the hearts and minds of her readers. In addition to writing her local columns, she wrote articles for several other publications and authored three books. She held a journalism degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Buckley told me that Ruth first called him more than 15 years ago, back when the Neighborhood Extra offices were at the 66th and R streets center.
“She thought the Neighborhood Extra would be a good fit,” he said. “She was right. She had a very loyal following. As her husband’s health deteriorated, she found writing particularly therapeutic.
“She was a gem and will be missed.”
It’s still hard to grasp that the former congressman’s wife and Nebraska’s first lady, who openly overcame challenges with alcohol and smoking and survived an aneurysm and a stroke, is now gone.
I started reading Ruth’s columns regularly a few years ago after noticing that ReNae always looked for them – first thing – before reading anything else every Saturday morning. Ruth shared her personal journeys through her writing with an openness that I and many others found refreshing. Readers regularly shared positive comments about how her columns had struck a chord in their own lives.
Ruth’s candid spirit and heartfelt columns in Neighborhood Extra will be missed. Her passing will also be felt by the causes she passionately supported – the Gathering Place and Friends of Loren Eiseley (now called Loren Eiseley Society), both of which she co-founded; Nebraskans for Peace; Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty; the National Organization for Women; and many others.
My thoughts and prayers go out to Ruth’s family, daughters Anna, Marie and Amy, and her two granddaughters, Charlotte and Stella. A memorial service for Ruth is planned for 3 p.m. Friday, May 18, at Roper and Sons Chapel, 4300 O St. Condolences can be left online at Roperandsons.com.