Gilbert a mentor, 'lady of integrity'

Ruby Gilbert will be remembered as a leader who worked hard to help others, those who knew her say.

Mrs. Gilbert, the first African-American woman elected to the Kansas Legislature, represented the 89th District in Wichita from 1991 to 2004.

Mrs. Gilbert died Feb. 28 after a four-year battle with cancer. She was 80.

The service will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Tabernacle Bible Church, 1817 N. Volutsia.

"She was a lady of integrity, and she did her job without a lot of fanfare," said her husband, Booker T. Gilbert. "She didn't go around broadcasting what she did. She worked with the grassroots people. She worked with kids and she helped people that needed help."

"Ruby was a wonderful mentor to me," Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, told fellow lawmakers Thursday as the Senate honored her legislative service with a resolution.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, said that when he first arrived at the Statehouse, Mrs. Gilbert taught him how to be a lawmaker. "She was a leader in so many ways."

She also set the standard for working with both sides of the political aisle, lawmakers said.

"She was known as Miss Congeniality," said state Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita. "People respected her. She will be dearly missed."

Ruby Boston was born Dec. 19, 1929, in Childress, Texas. She was raised in Dallas and came to Wichita in 1954 to be closer to her sister, Mary Lou Spicer.

She was working as a nurse's aide at Wesley Hospital when Booker T. Gilbert met her. The first time they went out, they double-dated with another couple and went to a wrestling match.

"In those days looks were important, and she was a pleasant person," Gilbert said. "We stayed together 53 years."

Ruby Gilbert became actively involved in the Church of the Living God, where her brother-in-law, R.J. Spicer, was a minister, and later with the PTA at Mueller Elementary School, where the Gilberts' daughter attended school.

"What happened is through the school and attending Democratic meetings, she became the vice chairman of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party," Gilbert said. "That's where she started."

As she made more and more public appearances, Mrs. Gilbert became known for her beautiful clothes.

"She was the best dressed person in the whole capital," Finney said. "She made all her clothes. She was a wonderful seamstress and a great cook."

As a legislator, she served on several committees, including those on federal and state affairs, taxation, insurance and arts and culture.

She also served on the National Council of State Legislatures' Children and Family Committee and fought hard against the death penalty.

She helped initiate the Scared Straight Program and took local youth to prisons to let them see first-hand the lives of prisoners.

Mrs. Gilbert also served on several community organizations. including the board of the Phyllis Wheatley Children's Home. She was chair of the Mennonite Housing Board.

Through the years, she received many awards, including the National Federation of Democratic Women's Humanitarian Award in 1995 and the Kansas African American Museum's Torch Award in 2004 for her work as a legislator.

Besides her husband, Mrs. Gilbert is survived by her son, Harold Eugene Gilbert of San Francisco; daughter, Lawanda Kay Valdez of San Antonio; brothers, Lawrence Boston of Dallas and Robert Boston of Los Angeles; sister, Dorothy Boston of Dallas; goddaughter, Valada McDaniels of Washington, D.C.; and numerous grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends.