LETTER: Blair family takes on City Hall in wake of mother's death

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Ruth Blair, retired teacher and longtime advocate for those in the Hispanic community, died Nov. 21. After her death, Hodgenville City Hall disconnected water service to two Hispanic families. Mrs. Blair had paid the deposits to have water service to the homes. Her children are embroiled in a disagreement with City Hall over what they perceive as an assault on human rights and disrespect of their mother’s work. City Hall refutes their claim, saying the decision to disconnect the water service was purely financial and no disrespect was meant to their mother.

 Dear Editor:

I write on an issue of concern I have for the citizens within the city limits of Hodgenville. As a county-dweller, my son won’t have to worry about this when I pass away. I feel very confident that the individuals who work in the offices of LaRue County Water District #1 would never treat him as heartlessly and shabbily as my family has been treated by some employees of Hodgenville City Hall (excluding the police department) and the mayor after the death of my mother and four days before her memorial service even.

By the time this letter hits the paper, it will have been less than a full week after I deliver her eulogy, and I intended this letter to be a thank-you to the citizens of LaRue County and Hardin County for the overwhelming amount of love and support shown for a woman who devoted her life to serving others because she truly cared about humanity. I still intend to deliver that thanks, but at the moment I am so full of outrage (a feeling my mother only ever had regarding the willful mistreatment of the disadvantaged), that I must vent a little as well as warn the town’s citizens.

Town members beware; check your wills; make sure all your documents are in order. Apparently it is someone’s job at City Hall to check the obituaries in the local newspapers (or through the gossip trees), compare them to properties owned that require city water, and immediately cut off the water without so much as a warning to those left behind by the deceased. Yes, you can believe it. My mother, Ruth Blair, died the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Four days after her death, City Clerk MaDonna Hornback turned off the water to her property. I didn’t report her death to anyone at City Hall. I certainly didn’t ask anyone to turn off the water. I’m not sure where this employee got the idea that it was under her purview to randomly turn water off and on, but I’d surely say she overstepped some boundaries. It would be interesting to know whether other folks who passed away last week had the water turned off in their homes as well or in their rental properties. Personally, I’m glad this only happens in city limits because if this were a county policy, I would have woken up to no running water and no no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookies, as that is what my friend at the water company gave me – the no-bake cookies, that is, not the lack of water.

The Monday after Thanksgiving, the first Thanksgiving without my mother – heck, the first Monday without my mother – at around 4:30 p.m., I received a call from someone representing the individuals who rent my mother’s property because their water had been cut off. Yes, I say a representative because regrettably I don’t speak Spanish. The call came after anything could have been done about it on Monday. So, for more than 24 hours, a family, through no fault of their own, had to be without water. Later that same evening we learned that another Hispanic family had their water cut off because their bill was in my mother’s name. I sit here writing this letter now, apologizing to my mother that I couldn’t anticipate this action and, sadly, being glad she’s not here to witness it. She would only feel that she must do more, work harder, be kinder, be gentler, be more giving.

I’m so angry now because she DID do more; she WORKED harder; she WAS kinder, gentler, more giving. And I know it wasn’t for nothing. But I also know that one person with too much power can make the world seem so, so small. My mother, Ruth Blair, sought to expand the map. She believed expanding the map meant expanding humanity. We all have so much to offer one another.

I’m sorry Mama. I’m just not kinder and gentler like you. I got this side of my personality from Daddy. I did inherit your love and respect for humanity, though. Well, I get that part from both of you. And I promise you both that I will never stop advocating for the less fortunate, in this case people who are far less outraged than I would be about an unnecessary 24 hours without water. 

It was hard for me to believe that Hodgenville mayor Terry Cruse would have signed off on an action like this. On its face, the action is at a minimum disrespectful to the grief my family was enduring, and at a maximum, a direct slap at my mother, a tireless advocate of the Hispanics in this community. She has dealt with people at City Hall on behalf of Hispanics for the past 13 years. I know that Mr. Cruse knew both my mother and father, and until Wednesday of last week I believed he respected them. This was done by your representative, Mr. Cruse, and now I know sanctioned by you. Is this the kind of treatment the citizens of Hodgenville voted for? You might want to check out a no-bake cookie recipe (call LaRue County Water District #1, they have a really good one).

The Hodgenville city council members certainly were responsive to us. They answered all our phone calls. And the County Attorney, he’s a really good listener. And the American Civil Liberties Union, they’re the best. They are even coming down soon to check out our little town. But Hodgenville voters, know who didn’t take our call at all? Your mayor, Terry Cruse. 

Your mayor (and potentially aspiring sheriff) would not talk to two country girls from Buffalo, so we went to City Hall ourselves – our whole family absent my brother Kenneth who was teaching at Covington Holmes. All we wanted to do was get the water turned on for two families who were guilty of nothing more than showering while Hispanic. What we discovered at City Hall was that there are no real rules or statutes, at least none that were produced when we asked. There are merely “day-to-day operational discretionary decisions.” It should be plain to any thinking person what this means – it means that decisions are made not in any systematic way but based on the “discretion” of whomever is sitting at the desk at the time of your arrival.  

When we asked to see the ordinance that allowed City Hall officials to shut the water off at my mother’s property before an official death certificate was produced (or a request had been made by the family to shut the water off), they could produce no ordinance or statute. Upon our request, Madonna Hornback simply kept asking us if our mother was dead. And Terry Cruse, your mayor, Hodgenville, said to me that if my mother wasn’t dead, we should produce her. I’m still in shock and, of course, distress.

Unfortunately, what this feels like to my entire family is that City Hall was waiting for my mother to die. All indications were that the purpose was to make it difficult for these Hispanic families to stay in the homes they’ve been renting for quite some time. Mr. Cruse mentioned their “illegal” status numerous times.  Ostensibly, both Ms. Hornback and Mr. Cruse tried to say that they were trying to “protect” our mother’s estate. But they didn’t try to protect it with phone calls to anyone in my family. No, what they did was cut off water to two families one business day after my mother’s death, of which they had no evidence except through hearsay. There was no body at a funeral home; no one called my family to confirm her death. I don’t think the citizens of Hodgenville will have a hard time seeing this for exactly what it is.

Whatever your politics are; however you may feel about undocumented immigrants, if you knew my mother, you respected her. Even at City Hall they wouldn’t treat her badly – they waited until she died to disrespect her work. They can pretend all they want that they were protecting the family’s interest. I’ve got news for them – Blairs don’t need anyone to protect our interests.

And we want to let it be known, our mother’s work is OUR work. That’s how we operate. We may not speak Spanish, but we know how to advocate. We know how to fight. And we certainly have no fear of fighting City Hall. We will continue my mother’s work in her absence. It is what she would want us to do, and, more importantly, the Hispanic community has become part of our family because of her work. They are hard workers; they pay taxes, and they pay their bills. They have strong family values and tremendous faith. And most if not all the children in those homes are U.S. citizens.

Fortunately for 13 years, Mom also dealt with people at other organizations whom I would like to publicly thank for their humanity: the LaRue County Public School system, the health department, the social services office, the LaRue County sheriff’s office, the Hodgenville city police department, the county clerk’s office, the circuit clerk’s office, the county attorney’s office, Steve Doom and Smith’s Drugs, Dr. Preston’s office, Dr. Catlett’s office, Dr. Baumgardner’s office, Dr. Boley’s office, and Paula’s Hot Biscuit. Thank you and all the many other offices in Hardin and LaRue County for your recognition that my mother was trying to do good in the world.

And citizens of Hodgenville, I strongly urge you to check your Hodgenville city utilities bills before you inform anyone of the death of a loved one – if there’s a bill in their name especially. If your water bill is in your husband’s name or your wife’s name or your parent’s name, you’ll be without water on the next business day if they die – unless, of course, you get lucky in terms of “day-to-day operational decisions.”  Instead of dealing with our initial grief, my family was fighting to get the water turned back on for two families. We didn’t even have official proof of her death yet, except what our own eyes could tell us. We were dealing with the grief of our children. We were only beginning to get the details of her service underway.  She hadn’t even reached the cadaver lab at UL Medical School yet. My mother may be gone, but what she stood for – the love and respect for humanity that she showed to those in dire need – will live on in her children and in her grandchildren. She stood for what is right! For what is humane! For human dignity!

Someone, somewhere, might be able to explain this egregious action to me – and it might be technically legal even – but that doesn’t make it any less disgusting. And I wouldn’t be my father’s daughter if I didn’t point it out! I sure am glad no one has to explain this to him!


Kim Blair Mather