Ruthell Howard, 50; Longtime Post Copy Editor

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Ruthell Howard, 50, a copy editor for The Washington Post for more than 15 years, died of cardiopulmonary arrest Oct. 21 at Menorah Home and Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Ms. Howard, a former resident of Arlington County, had been in a nursing home since she suffered complications after minor surgery in March 2005.

She was known as an "extremely conscientious" editor who was often the last person to leave in the early hours of the morning, after the paper was on the printing presses, said a former supervisor, Marcia Kramer.

In the sometimes-anonymous copy desk position, which requires mediation between strong-willed reporters attached to their words and readers who demand accuracy, clarity and context, she was known as a polite but meticulous editor, her colleagues said.

She worked on the copy desk for the Metro section and for the old Weeklies sections and often was in charge of nightly operations on the desk.

"She was just a little fireplug," said her friend Sharon Scott, the editor of the National Weekly edition of The Post. "She was tenacious, her sense of outrage at injustices in the world. She had this almost extraordinary capacity to empathize with other people. . . . She was one of the kindest, most selfless people you would ever meet."

Ms. Howard organized a semiannual newsroom-wide bake sale to raise money for Children's Hospital and Send a Kid to Camp. Her sweet potato pie was legendary, and she often made extra pies for people who promised additional donations.

She also liked to play the lottery. "Whenever the lottery amount would get into the gazillions, she would organize a desk ticket, collect a dollar and go out and buy the ticket," Kramer said. "I always warned her, at least finish a shift if you win."

When actor Denzel Washington, in the city while filming "The Pelican Brief," dropped by The Post's newsroom to ask questions about the news business, Ms. Howard maneuvered to shake his hand. "She was so impressed when he asked her to repeat her name when she introduced herself to him," Scott said. "That so impressed her that he took the time to ask about her unusual name."

In March 2005, she worked until midnight the day before she had surgery and planned to be back at the desk the next day, but complications set in, and she never returned to work.

She was born in Engelhard, N.C., and graduated from North Carolina Central University. She worked as a reporter for the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Chronicle. In 1984, she joined the Carolina Peacemaker newspaper as a reporter and in 1986 became a copy editor for the Greensboro, N.C., News and Record. She joined The Post in February 1990.

Ms. Howard also did freelance editing for Crisis magazine and taught a weekend journalism class for non-journalism majors at Howard University.

She was a member of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Arlington.

Survivors include her mother, Isa Mae Howard of Engelhard; and three brothers, her twin, Ralphell Howard, Pompey Howard and Willie Archie Howard, all of New York.

-- Patricia Sullivan

© 2007 The Washington Post Company