Surprise Drive-By Celebration Honors Retiring Iconic CMS Educator
By Ken Koontz
CHARLOTTE, NC - Davidson native Ruby Houston has retired, ending her legendary career as an educator.
To honor her departure, Charlotte-Mecklenburg School co-workers, colleagues, friends, family church and community representatives honored her and said good-bye with a surprise processional to wish her well in the next chapter of her life. Carlenia Ivory, co-worker in CMS’ Community Partnership and Family Engagement Department, spearheaded the effort because congregations of people in closed gatherings are banned due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Houston, a Davidson native and 1968 graduate of North Mecklenburg High School and 1972 from Barber-Scotia College, became an iconic North Mecklenburg personality and legendary CMS representative for 37 years in fostering special programs for students and families primarily in low-income and disadvantaged populations. Her combined 48-year educational and human services career also included stops at Central Piedmont Community College, Exceptional Children’s Center, Habitat for Humanity, and positions on numerous community services boards. She leaves the CMS system as a Specialist in Community Partnerships and Family Engagement. Colleagues say she will be sorely missed for her dynamic and resourceful efforts serving target neighborhoods and residents and bringing a broad range of corporate, non-profit and religious community partners to the diverse table of supporters and services recipients.
A lifetime North Mecklenburg resident, Houston’s impact also garnered “Ruby Houston Day” retirement honors from all three North Mecklenburg townships of Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville. But the Surprise Drive-By was unexpected. Ivory held Houston “hostage” at her Hyde Park home while well-wishers gathered and decorated their vehicles in nearby Hornets Nest Park. Ivory and her drive-by co-conspirators had set up a special tent in The Park Church parking lot for Houston to receive the motorcade of well-wishers bearing flowers, cards, and monetary gifts. Local radio station 101.5 did a special “live” interview with Houston to take her story to their audience. An estimated 125 people in a 55-car processional made the short jaunt to The Park Church blowing horns, waving, and throwing kisses to the surprised Houston. “Everybody else was cold,” noted Houston with a gleaming smile. “But, I was warmed by all the love everybody showed me.”
Houston said her whole life has been about caring and giving to others less fortunate.” I had the total and committed support of my parents Ollie and Bernice Houston from early childhood,” she recalls. “I remember earning 50-cents an hour on my first job at age 13, babysitting the children of Davidson College staff, administrators and professors. My dad died when I was 24, but mother stayed true to supporting my sister and me. And now, my retirement will focus on supporting her. She is 95,” Houston stressed looking at her mother sitting in a car taking in all the drive-by action with a proud countenance. “But, I will still be heavily involved in continued volunteer work in human services,” she adds.
Houston also noted that none of this would likely have ever happened had it not been for a benefactor who long ago financially supported her desire to attend college, graduate school and ultimately her career. She cited late-Walter Lingle of Davidson as one whose spirit still lives in her heart and to who she remains forever grateful, just as she expressed about those who surprised her with this drive-by retirement honor. This may be the end of her professional career’s journey, but it’s not the end of her road.