Dr. Ruth Mitchell Laws, 97,of Dover, died Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010.


Dr. Ruth Mitchell Laws, 97, of Dover, died peacefully Sunday, Feb. 14, 2010, at her home, surrounded by her family and friends.

Born July 25, 1912, in Gatesville, N.C., she was the seventh of eight children born to the late Rev. Charles S. and Clare Mitchell.

A pioneer and a legend, Dr. Laws was far ahead of her time and accomplished a number of firsts during her lifetime. She was the first woman in the country to earn a doctorate in administration and supervision and the first minority professional to gain employment at the former Delaware Department of Public Instruction (now Department of Education). Dr. Laws was the first inductee the first year of the Delaware Women’s Hall of Fame and in 1986, was the first minority female to be inducted as Delaware Mother of the Year.

She held a host of professional positions including teacher of home economics, head of the home economics department at Delaware State College (now University), assistant state supervisor of home economics, state supervisor of home economics, state supervisor of research and planning in vocational education, and state director of adult and continuing education. She directed the student organization of New Homemakers of America, and her last position was as vice president for research and development at Delaware Technical & Community College.

During her 43-year career, Dr. Laws secured the first federal funds for Head Start and migrant education programs in the state of Delaware. She conducted research leading to enabling legislation and funding for creation of Delaware Technical & Community College. In recognition of her work with Head Start, Lady Bird Johnson invited her to the White House.

She was recognized by a number of former Delaware governors along with the Delaware Bar Association for her work in government and civic concerns. For more than 18 years she served as secretary for the Delaware division, U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Over the years, she was appointed to several state commissions including the Commission on Children and Youth and the Commission on Aging.

Substantial involvement with church and church related organizations included most committees and boards of the Peninsula Conference of the United Methodist Church, local and national Church Women United, Delmarva Ecumenical Agency, United Methodist Women, the Central Delaware and national YMCA, and local church committees at Whatcoat United Methodist Church of Dover.

Dr. Laws was a member of a host of social, civic, and professional organizations, to included Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., The Links Inc., Phi Delta Kappa National Honor Fraternity in Education, American Mothers, NAACP, AAUW, League of Women Voters, the Alphabettes, Dover Century Club, and a host of honor societies.

In addition her parents, Dr. Laws was preceded in death by William J. Laws, her husband of 61 years; and her siblings, Ralph Mitchell, Maude Jeffers, Shelly Mitchell, Chauncey Mitchell, Helen Brown, Howard Mitchell and Beth Wallace.

Dr. Laws is survived by her daughter, Dr. Cherritta L. Matthews of Dover; her grandson, William E. Matthews of Newark; and a cousin, Clarence Curry of Hampton, Va.

She also is survived by her nieces, Sheila Holmes, Fleur Mitchell and Carmen Howes, all of Los Angeles, Calif., June Robinson of Ellicott City, Md., Antonia Moore and Jacquelyn Berry, both of Charlotte, N.C., Gloria Nowlin of Crete, Ill., Edith Tucci of Chevy Chase, Md., and Gwen Hammond of Concord; her nephews, Howard Mitchell of Bristow, Okla., Douglas and Bill Wallace, both of Charlotte, and Hugh Waters of Cheswold; and a number of grand nephews and nieces.

Interment was in the Sharon Hills Memorial Park, west of Dover.

Arrangements were by the Bennie Smith Funeral Home, Dover.

Memorial donations in Dr. Laws’ name may be made to the William J. and Ruth M. Laws Foundation, 844 Forest St., Dover, DE 19904, c/o Dr. Cherritta L. Matthews.

Letters of condolence may be sent and the guestbook signed at www.benniesmithfuneralhome.com.