Waudieur “Woodie” Rucker Hughes Leaves Legacy of Service
By Dianne Anderson
Civil rights activists are reflecting this week on the passing of local legend, Riverside Chapter NAACP President Waudieur Rucker Hughes and her many selfless years of breaking down the walls of social injustice.
As strong as she was sensitive, those closest to her recall how she generously gave to fight and fix the problems that burden the community, the lack of good training programs, and the perpetual need for jobs.
It was a great personal sacrifice of time and energy.
Community leader Dell Roberts remembers when she first stopped working within the Riverside Unified School District to start as executive director of the Opportunities Industrialization Center, where, for eleven years she threw herself day and night to develop training programs.
“She worked herself to a frazzle. She was trying to get jobs for people, trying to get people into the business because she was really devoted to it,” said Roberts, who was among the first to meet Ms. Hughes in the early 1970s when she first moved to California.
“I told her, ‘Woodie, you have to return to the school district. The kids need you.’ Finally, she returned, but she sacrificed a whole lot,” he said.
His wife, Carmen Roberts, said it is an emotional time for all who had the good fortune to work alongside Ms. Rucker Hughes. She was loved by everyone, and she deeply loved the community.
“She was strong in what she believed in. She fought for that cause to the end, for the final resolution,” she said. “She was a lover of people. She found the good in everybody, she always had a smile.”
Ms. Rucker Hughes had recently retired as a child welfare and attendance manager and district coordinator for homeless education in the Riverside Unified School District. Through her varied career, she garnered many community service awards and was a proud Delta Sigma Theta “Delta Dear,” having served over 45 years with the sorority.
Ms. Rucker-Hughes began teaching U.S. history in 1969 to 1975 at John North High School, where she served as Dean of Students and Assistant Principal. She had talked about the volatile times and how Black families wanted to end segregation, but also wanted their children to learn Black history. Through her classes, including a sociology class on the Philosophy of Black Thought, she was able to frame the backstory of the African American fight for justice.
Earlier this year, Ms. Rucker Hughes expressed excitement on her appointment to the Disadvantaged Communities Advisory Group, selected as one of ten statewide advocates to advise the California Public Utilities Commission. She had hoped to broaden affordable energy access for the low-income community.
Precinct Reporter staff writer Elizabeth Dowdy, had covered many events hosted by Ms. Rucker Hughes and the Riverside branch, including their salute to the labor unions.
“She was very passionate about civil rights, she was a fighter,” said Dowdy, adding that she brought everything within her power to face whatever battle the community was up against.
“Not only was she fiery, she was able to get around leaders and those that are really dictators operating as leaders. She could bring the community together, the sheriff’s department and other community leaders,” Dowdy said.
Longtime friend and colleague Robin Woods described Ms. Rucker Hughes as a dear mentor, always eager to help anyone that needed information and help.
“You pick up the phone and if she didn’t know, she’d find out,” said Woods, who has served on the local Riverside NAACP branch for 15 years. “She was a walking Google before Google. She knew everyone, she knew the connections. She was an icon.”
Wherever she went, Woods said she evoked love and respect, and left her mark in a positive way. She was gentle, yet firm, and had a way of letting people know where she stood on the matter.
“She’d pull your coattail,” Wood said. “It was with grace and dignity and love, but she’d tell you if you’re wrong. This is what you’ve got to do to fix it. And you did it.”
Dr. Regina Patton-Stell, first vice president of the local branch, said their friendship spanned well over 40 years, from the mid-70’s after Patton-Stell retired as assistant superintendent for Riverside County Office of Education.
She said Ms. Rucker Hughes kept asking her to come on board with the local NAACP. She finally accepted.
“We were yin and yang,” she said. “ I had administrative skills, but she had political skills. We would laugh, but the greatest of these is that we were spiritually connected.”
As a leader of the local branch, she said Ms. Rucker Hughes held tight to the principals of equal rights, but had a rare quality of being able to walk with kings and commoners alike. She always met people where they were at, and made them feel welcome.
She gathered top tiers of local government, caught their ear on the issues, and they would often call her to get her input.
“She’d say, we have to do what’s right, and we all know what’s right,” she said. “We lost a giant, but we lost a giant that prepared her successor.”
She said Ms. Rucker Hughes has prepared the family of executive council members and community people to ensure the fight continues to keep equality at the forefront and give voice to the downtrodden.
“There are people that come into your life and make an impression on you and you don’t realize the depth of that impression until they’re no longer in your presence, but you feel it forever,” she said.
On Tuesday, July 24, her viewing will be held at 11:00 a.m. at Harvest Christian Church. Funeral services will start at 12:30 p.m., located at 6115 Arlington Ave, Riverside. Repass service immediately follows. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to a Memorial Fund at Altura Credit Union Routing #322281235 Account #2490680