Cooper: Ruth Holmberg's active, passionate life

Cooper: Ruth Holmberg's active, passionate life

April 21st, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Ruth Holmberg, who died Wednesday, was a strong proponent of Chattanooga's renaissance.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

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It would have been easy for the then-Ruth Golden to stay behind the scenes, raise her four children and take a minor but interesting role at the family-owned Chattanooga Times when she came to Chattanooga in 1946.

But that was not the way her grandfather, Adolph Ochs, who bought The Chattanooga Times in the 1870s and later purchased The New York Times, did it, and so that life wouldn't be for her either.

Instead, Ruth Holmberg, who died Wednesday at the age of 96, not only in time came to head the newspaper, which merged with the Chattanooga Free Press to form the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999, but she became one of the city's most generous philanthropists, an insistent arts supporter and a backer of progressive causes in her adopted home.

She became publisher of The Times at the relatively young age of 43 in 1964, her youth and gender already standing her apart from the man's world of the era. But that was nothing to a woman who had driven a taxi in New York City, directed military clubs for the Red Cross, and learned to prepare doughnuts for 400 in World War II England and France while dodging German bombs.

"I didn't always obey the rules," Holmberg once observed. "I didn't know what they were."

When she took the helm at Chattanooga's morning newspaper, she continued its pro-civil rights stance, a stance that didn't endear her to everyone here at the time.

"My theory," Holmberg once said, "was things are right or they are wrong. And if they are wrong, they need to be looked at and made right."

Although her newspaper involvement took her to the heights of the board of directors of The New York Times Co. and The Associated Press, and as president of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association, it was her leadership roles out front and behind the scenes in local organizations and city renewal efforts for which she'll be long remembered here.

The glass bridge over Riverfront Parkway and leading to the Hunter Museum of American Art is just one testament to the generosity of Holmberg, and her husband, Bill, who died in 2005.

She also pushed for the greening of downtown with trees, was president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, chaired the Hunter's board of directors for four years, and helmed the Public Education Foundation and the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera, among many other civic involvements.

The Tennessee Woman of the Year award she was presented in 2003 is emblematic of her many contributions.

The world in general and Chattanooga specifically are better off for Holmberg's active, passionate and visionary life.

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