Cover photo for Ruth Kirby Sanders's Obituary
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1931 Ruth 2021

Ruth Kirby Sanders

February 13, 1931 — January 30, 2021

Ruth Virginia Kirby Sanders died peacefully after a brief illness on January 30, 2021, two weeks shy of her 90th birthday. All who knew her well can attest that her life was marked by two things: a commitment to family and a passion for education.

Mrs. Sanders was born February 13, 1931 and reared in Woodland, Ala. She was the sixth of seven children, the only girl in a line-up of boys who all grew up to love their sister dearly. Perhaps it was this kind of upbringing that instilled in her the importance of family. Though she had an exceptional professional and academic career, she always emphasized that family should come first, and made that her life practice. She was undoubtedly the glue that helped hold her extended family together.

Mrs. Sanders graduated from Woodland High School in 1946, then obtained her Bachelor of Science from Jacksonville State College in 1952. Though she started with aspirations to become a doctor, a change in plans led her to a high school physics teaching opportunity, and once she started, she discovered her passion. She went on to complete her Master of Science at the University of Alabama.

She taught at two high schools in Alabama before moving to Atlanta in 1956 to become the Physics teacher at Henry Grady (now Midtown) High School. In 1970, she became the Physics teacher and Science Department Chair at Lakeside High School. During her years in the classroom, she was nationally recognized as a leader in science education, and was selected to participate in the national Physical Science Study Committee, tasked with reforming the teaching of high school physics. Her students gave her the affectionate nickname “Mother Physics,” and many of those students went on to excel at the top levels of the Westinghouse Science Fair and the International Science Fair. Additionally, she was instrumental in starting the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program, a residential summer program for gifted students, and she taught there several times in the 1960s. But perhaps the greatest testimony to her impact as an educator is the vast number of students whose lives she touched. To them, she gave generously of her wisdom, time, and energy, and students from over the years stayed in touch with her via visits, cards, notes, and phone calls because of her profound influence in their education and life.

Friends, family, and students alike will remember Mrs. Sanders for her delightful gift of storytelling. And she had no shortage of interesting experiences from which to share: Robert Frost once selected her poetry for a public reading, she met and worked with Albert Einstein and many Nobel laureates, she was friends with former president Jimmy Carter, and she had many adventures while traveling in South America and Europe.

Mrs. Sanders was an active member of Glenn Memorial Church, and an ardent supporter of Emory University and the Candler School of Theology. There she served on the Committee of 100. She joined the Decatur Lions Club in the 1960s and was active, along with her husband Eugene, for many years. She greatly enjoyed being a member of Alpha Delta Kappa, the international honorary organization for women educators.

Mrs. Sanders had a fondness for nature and a natural green thumb. She grew bamboo for Zoo Atlanta at her home, and the ivy that covered her oak tree was grown from a clipping from Shakespeare’s grave. She was an active member of the Green Thumb Garden Club.
Mrs. Sanders is preceded in death by her parents, Gertrude Fincher and Thomas Jefferson Kirby; her husband, Eugene Hendrix Sanders; and her six brothers: Lawrence J. Kirby (Lorene), Robert E. Kirby (Jane), Dr. Thomas W. Kirby, Charlie R. Kirby (Mary), Kelly M. Kirby (Atha), and Frederick S. Kirby. She is survived by sisters-in-law Frances Parker Kirby and Chris Cook Kirby, as well as many nieces and nephews: Lawrence Kirby (Donna), Cheryl Upton (Bill), Charline Cole, Charlotte Brazelton (Mike), Elizabeth Bennett (Frank), Darden Kirby (Priscilla), Farley Kirby (Mary), Marsha Bentley, Myron Kirby (Melanie), Jan Stroud, Ken Kirby, Timothy Kirby (Sharon), Nandell Coursey (Rick), Gloria Costigan (Richard), Lydia Ann Breedlove, Mary Kilgore Houston (Tennent), and numerous great nieces, nephews, and cousins. Extended family also included primary caregivers Dedra Mobley and Tish Barrier

A virtual memorial service will be hosted by Glenn Memorial Church via Zoom and on the church’s Facebook Live page on Sunday, February 21, at 2 p.m. Family and friends are asked to contact the church for reservations. A video of the service will also be available for subsequent viewing. Private graveside services will precede the virtual memorial service.
In lieu of flowers, Mrs. Sanders requested that memorial contributions be made to the public school of the donor’s choice.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Ruth Kirby Sanders, please visit our flower store.

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