Ruth Johnson Colvin

Ruth Johnson Colvin has been an educator world-wide her entire life. Known primarily as the founder of the widely recognized, celebrated and highly valued Literacy Volunteers of America, Ruth’s life story is one of an educator from day one. Her passion for books and for teaching have taken her to places near and far but it has also always brought her back to what one may well consider the driving question of her life story: How to reach those in need of literacy education? As she talks about the course of her life, one hears over and over again how this drive led her to become an innovator of literacy pedagogy and to keep her ear trained on changing needs of people, from those incarcerated to those who speak different languages. To listen to Ruth’s oral history is to hear how a problem-solving curiosity proves as vital a guide to social change as does a mindful heart. Other elements are having a knack for placing one’s faith in community and for building unlikely networks of volunteers. These elements and so many more in Ruth’s life all constellate around her concern for humanity and for peace. Hers is a life lived fully through teaching literacy as about more than learning words. To Ruth, it is the stories that count. Stories open us to one another, and, eventually, in her view, move us across boundaries of difference to humanity’s inner pulse of care and community. Hers is a story of a life lived fully in this world for nearly one hundred years now, where, as she puts it, age is “but a number” and the real concern is what you do to make change happen in this world now. Ruth continues to tutor, to golf, and to explore interest in art. Recognized with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, she continues to seek ways to build and reshape the literacy program she began so many decades ago.