Pittsburgh remembers Ruby Dee

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The passing of Ruby Dee left a void in Pittsburgh’s theater community. Although she wasn’t a Pittsburgher several in the city were touched by her when she would come in support of local artists.

The legendary actress, activist, poet, screenwriter, playwright died June 11 in New Rochelle, NY. Her career expanded more than seven decades across stage, movies and television.

Ruby Dee’s legendary talents, kindness and concern will forever be fondly remembered by New Horizon Theater, Inc. and the world, said Joyce Meggerson-Moore, chairperson.

“We here at New Horizon Theater, Inc. are very sad of the passing of the legend Ruby Dee,” said Meggerson-Moore. “We share special memories of our wonderful experiences as she performed solo at New Horizon and when she performed at New Horizon with her late husband, Ossie Davis.”

New Horizon first presented the stage and screen star to Pittsburgh in 1998 when Dee and Davis accepted an invitation to perform at its annual special event fundraiser.

Meggerson-Moore says that event still resonates with its audience to this day. “Their magnificent performance, ‘In Other Words’, a mixture of dramatic readings interspersed with history, had the audience mesmerized, crying, and rolling in the aisles with laughter as these master storytellers weaved their tales with various stories.”

Some years later in 2006 after Ossie Davis’ death, Dee was invited to return and performed excerpts from her book “My One Good Nerve.”

“It never occurred to us at that time, she must have been 83,” says Meggerson-Moore. “Not only because she did not mention age, but because she was so talented, so beautiful, so vibrant and so gracious in what she was doing.”

During that visit, Dee conducted an afternoon Master’s Class for performers and students. Actor/play­wright Kim El attended the workshop held at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.

“Ruby Dee inspired me to be an actress,” shared El. “That day Sister Ruby shared priceless jewels of stage and theatre skills.”

That evening after introducing New Horizons’ production of her late husband’s play “Purlie Victorious,” Dee became a member of the audience.

Theater stalwart Wali Jamal had a more direct experience with Dee and says he often re-lives that evening. “I’m so glad and proud to have performed her late husband’s play with Miss Dee in attendance! I’ll always remember her.”

Davis had died a matter of months before New Horizon produced “Purlie Victorious” (directed by Ernest McCarty).

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SOLO PERFORMANCE—Ruby Dee shares excerpts from her book “My One Good Nerve.” (Photo courtesy of New Horizon Theater, Inc.)

“I was so honored and challenged to performed this monumental role that taxed my endurance to its limits,” said Jamal. After the show Dee congratulated and chatted with the cast. “She asked me, ‘it’s hard, ain’t it?’ To which I nearly collapsed in front of her, responding ‘yes, ma’am.’ It was one of the highest points in my life and I’ll take it to my grave.”

Meggerson-Moore says Ruby Dee was equally as impressive off stage as she was on stage, and in her writings.

“She did not complain to us, was exceptional in signing autographs, in giving as much time to the audience who wanted their brochures and books signed, and she did media appearances.”

“Unlike many stars who rush to leave the theater venue after their performances, or who only give us 15 minutes for the reception, or one interview before the event, Ruby Dee always asked if anyone else needed signatures or if that was all that she needed to do,” said Meggerson-Moore. “She gave enough time for the students and audience to ask questions. She did not want to be represented from her agents as wanting to rush through her responsibilities.”

“I often refer to one of her movies to prep me for my stage performances,” said Kim El. “I will always be impressed by her acting, talent, professionalism, classy nature and commitment to civil rights.”

When Kimberly Ellis saw Miss Dee while attending the opening night of the Broadway revival of her uncle August Wilson’s award-winning “Fences,” she seized the moment to personally recite the poem.

“One of the best moments of my life,” Ellis wrote on her Facebook page after receiving the news of Dee’s passing. “Rest in Peace, Our Beloved Elder, Mother-Sister and Friend. We will speak your name, forever!”

“Ruby Dee was a fabulous actress and humanitarian whose lengthy career has been an inspiration for many actors who made the brave decision to pursue acting as their career choice. Her marriage to Ossie Davis was a testament of the seldom seen beauty of Black love and it’s existence in the world.”

“Just a few days ago before her death, I was thinking about calling her on behalf of New Horizon to see if she was still traveling,” Meggerson-Moore said.

“From Here To Eternity” —Davis and Dee wrote that their final arrangements have been made.

“Cremation after a public ceremony, and into an urn. A special urn, large enough to hold both our ashes. Whoever goes first will wait for the other. When we are united at last, we want the family to say goodbye and seal the urn forever. Then on the side, in letters not too bold—but not to modest either—we want the following inscription: ‘Ruby and Ossie—In This Thing Together’”

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A COUPLE OF COUPLES—Chris Moore and Joyce Meggerson-Moore flank Ossie Davis and Ruby during a 1998 fundraiser in Pittsburgh. (Photo courtesy of New Horizon Theater, Inc.)

 

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