I never really understood what real outreach looked like until I watched my mother become a full-time interpreter/advocate for the Hispanic community in LaRue County, Ky. What’s interesting is that my mother, Ruth Blair, a retired foreign language teacher, wouldn’t strike anyone as an advocate.
She passed away a day before Thanksgiving this year, and I can best describe her as a mild-mannered, soft-spoken woman who never had an unkind word for or about anyone.
After my father died in 1999, I felt fairly sure that my mother would become dependent on me to take care of her as my father had. What happened, though, was completely the opposite. I watched my mother become a different person. Not that my father held her back, rather that the purpose of her life changed. Circumstances sent her on a path none of us in the family could have envisioned.
My mother became the advocate for a large community of disadvantaged people as the result of a phone call from the county sheriff’s office, from a former student, then a deputy who had a Spanish speaking person in custody. With no way to communicate, this deputy made the logical decision to call the only other Spanish speaking person he knew — the former high school Spanish teacher.
That one phone call opened what can a only be called a floodgate as one member of the Hispanic community lead her to another in need and to another and another. Before I knew what was happening, my mother was so busy, I rarely saw her before seven or eight o’clock in the evening. She was meeting families in their homes and finding out what needs they had. Then she set about meeting those needs.
One of the first needs she addressed was the need for these deeply devout Catholics to reconnect with their church. Her own deep devotion to the church and her sterling reputation in the community helped open the church doors to this community again. She persuaded the priest to become more involved with the Hispanic community. And she began to lobby for a Spanish mass. As a result of her efforts, the next priest assigned had some Spanish language ability and services for the Hispanics really exploded.
But her work did not stop with church outreach. My mother spent hours in doctor’s offices, in the hospital emergency room, at the local health department, at schools, at human resources offices, at social services offices, at banks, at farms, at factories, at employment services, at businesses, and at the hospital labor and delivery department. As a result, my mother is considered “abuelita” (grandmother) by a whole generation of Hispanic American children.
My mother, Ruth Blair, of little old Buffalo, Ky., never ceased to amaze me. My family mourns her loss, and we are not alone. An American community and an Hispanic community also mourns this significant loss. But we celebrate a life of constant outreach, first to students and then to a community at risk. She served as an example to us all of what can be achieved when one truly follows the example of Jesus.
Kim Mather is one of five children of Ruth Blair. Blair donated her body to the University of Louisville for medical science.