October 1, 2023

Ruth Lovelace: To the Rescue

A childhood photograph captured Ruth Lovelace’s first rescue. She’s in a fire hat, on the ladder of her bunk bed, saving the family cat, Mittens, from some imaginary peril.

The picture was prophetic. In 1978, she became the first female firefighter in Brevard County, Florida. Later, she accepted a job at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center, earning another distinction: first female firefighter in the aerospace industry.

In 1999, she made her way to Mary Washington, where she has served in the role of director of Emergency Management for two decades.

Ruth Lovelace, a retired firefighter, came to UMW in 1999.

Ruth Lovelace, a retired firefighter, came to UMW in 1999.

“It’s my job to make sure that we’re prepared for the most catastrophic of incidents – plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Lovelace said.

That was never more true two weeks ago, when an unpredictable, potentially catastrophic hurricane lumbered toward the East Coast.

Q: What brought you to UMW?
A: I bought a farm in Hurt, Virginia, thinking I would get out of the emergency business. Not long after, I took a position as director of safety and training for an emergency response consultant for hazardous material incidents. I wanted a more stable position that kept me closer to home, and after a few years, I applied for this job, never thinking I would get it.

Q: In a job like yours, you probably have to be good at keeping calm. How do you do it?
A: My wife says that during an emergency, I get into this zone and it just clicks. I’m not sure why, and I think some folks might disagree that I’m calm. But I do take charge. I guess I am an adrenaline junkie.

Q: What constitutes an emergency?
A: An emergency is any unplanned event. It’s very difficult to plan for “everything,” but learning to be prepared for the unexpected to occur at any time and never become complacent allows us to respond with more efficiency and remain flexible. We hope that we are prepared enough that it doesn’t become an emergency. Preparedness is key!

UMW Director of Emergency Management Ruth Lovelace rescues the family's cat as child.

UMW Director of Emergency Management Ruth Lovelace rescues the family’s cat as child.

Q: What would you like people to know about how the university was working behind the scenes to ensure the best possible outcome for the UMW community in advance of Hurricane Florence?
A: The team at UMW is awesome. It’s made up of senior managers from several departments that are critical to operations at UMW. They meet and plan for the unexpected and support the UMW community in the event that essential support elements are needed. They plan for food and sheltering options as well as recovery after the incident.

Q: If you could have spoken to Hurricane Florence, what would you have said?
A: ‘Come on. We’re ready.’

Q: Anything about you people would be surprised to learn?
A: My true success in life comes from my family: My three sons, their wives and five grandchildren. My family is the greatest gift from God and I am so proud of all of them.

Q: Any mantras you try to live by?
A: Strive to be the best you can be. Enjoy what you do every day, and you will never work a day in your life. And, don’t be afraid to take a chance and listen to your heart.


  1. Officer Jeffrey Perry says

    Awesome extremely impressive story Ruth wow. I have nothing but great admiration for you over the years. And I have enjoy working with you. I enjoyed reading the article on your life experience and accomplishments that you have achieve over the years.

  2. Jay Sullivan says

    I have been here for 30 years and Ruth is the first real safety/emergency response employee the University has ever had. She came on the job as a real leader and has not stopped leading the safety department in the right direction since day one.

  3. Tracy DeBernard says

    Great story!