In Memoriam: Ruth Thomas’s Stewardship of the Environment

Ruth Thomas

Ruth Thomas testifies

Ruth Sackett Thomas (1920-2020) devoted the bulk of her adult life to safeguarding the environment and particularly to monitoring the impact of nuclear power.  In 1972, she helped create the South Carolina organization Environmentalists, Inc. [EI] and soon became the heart of the non-profit grassroots organization.  Eventually, she ran EI out of her Columbia, SC home.  Her social activism and dedication to the environment and to EI continued to her death last weekend.

The organization grew out of concern over the environmental impact of the Barnwell Nuclear Fuel Plant.  EI’s membership included university professors, attorneys and social and health care professionals.  Thomas assumed a number of roles over the years including legal assistant, researcher, coordinator, treasurer and president.  She testified before the U.S. House, the Senate and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  The group received a commendation from the Citizen’s Clearinghouse for Hazardous Wastes in 1989.

Environmentalists, IncThe University received its first shipment of EI papers in 1995 and Thomas added to the collection steadily.  In recent years, she lived in a retirement home in North Carolina.  On a December, 2015 visit, I had to wait to speak with Ms. Thomas until she had returned from her brisk morning constitutional.  I was told she walked every morning.  That day we picked up some ten feet of new materials.

The collection currently contains of almost 120 feet of material, chiefly composed of research files as well as legal materials from the many lawsuits in which EI was involved or studied.  EI’s papers forms a valuable resource for research on the nuclear industry and its impact on our environment.  South Carolinians everywhere should applaud Ms. Thomas’s devotion and fortitude in working to protect our environment and her diligence in preserving the records of that effort.  Her example is a challenge to us all.

Contributed by Herb Hartsook

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