Ruth Luening Smith Was Human Rights Activist

Ruth Luening Smith, a longtime Vineyarder, died Wednesday, July 31, at Windemere, where she had stayed since suffering a stroke in May. She was 88 years old and was the wife of the Rev. Kenneth J. Smith, minister emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Society in Vineyard Haven.

She was born Oct. 29, 1913, in Somerville, the only child of Dr. Herbert and Helena Buffum. She was a graduate of Mt. Holyoke College, majoring in religion, and received her graduate degree in library science at Simmons College. After working as a librarian at Simmons, she secured a job as a librarian at Meadville Theological School, University of Chicago, where she met her husband-to-be.

She married the Rev. Eugene A. Luening in 1939. At their churches in Northampton and Kingston, Memphis, Tenn., and Ft. Wayne, Ind., she was a dedicated church worker and Sunday school teacher. She also was a devoted mother to their three children: Louisa, Margie and Larry Luening. Having enjoyed Island vacations as children themselves, the couple brought their family to the Vineyard in 1947 and returned every year thereafter to Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs. They summered here until 1970, when they became full-time residents. Gene Luening died in 1978.

Always an activist, Mrs. Smith was involved in the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, through which she worked tirelessly for women's and civil rights. She and Mr. Luening became active in the civil rights movement while living in Memphis. Ruth was an outspoken fighter for integration and fair housing there, and later, as a staff member of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. She continued her commitment to human rights on the Vineyard, working with the league and the NAACP and co-founding the Martha's Vineyard Committee on Hunger.

In 1984, she married the Rev. Kenneth Smith, then minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society, and over the years served as president, vice president and treasurer of the church. They enjoyed yearly trips to church conferences and travels to favorite places such as Maine and new places such as Nova Scotia, Brazil and Costa Rica. When Ken was called to an interim ministry in Corpus Christi, Tex., they lived there for several months.

Mrs. Smith was secretary at the Baptist Church and part-time employee at the Vineyard Haven library for many years. Somehow, she found time to enjoy chess with Ken, weekly scrabble with Larry, vacations and outings with Margie, time with Louisa and her talented children, Erich, Sabrina and Talia, and, always, books.

She is survived by her husband, Ken; daughters Louisa and Margery Luening; son Lawrence; son in law Jeff Dando, and grandchildren Erich, Sabrina and Talia Luening.

Cremation arrangements were by Dyer-Lake Funeral Home of Attleboro Falls, favored by the local memorial society of which she and her husband were founding members.

The memorial service will be held Tuesday, August 13, at 1 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Society, with Dr. Judy Campbell presiding, assisted by the Rev. Alden Besse of Grace Episcopal Church and divinity intern Janet Holliday. Dawn Aberg will be the organist.