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Remembering Ruby Dee And Her Special Dallas Connection

The actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee died Wednesday at her New York home at the age of 91.

She starred on Broadway. She acted in films. She emceed the March on Washington in 1963. 

But in the early ‘80s, she worked in Dallas with KERA Television to produce a show with her husband, Ossie Davis. It was called With Ossie & Ruby.

While in North Texas, she formed a long-lasting friendship with an impressionable young producer at KERA. 

Bob Ray Sanders met Davis while he was at the KERA studios filming some voiceovers.

They started talking about an idea for a TV show – a variety program featuring songs, poetry and literature. Davis talked with Dee -- and they signed on to tape the show in Dallas.

Stars flocked to Dallas

“They had been wanting to do television the way they wanted to produce it for a long time,” said Sanders, now a columnist with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “Nobody had ever offered them that.”  

All sorts of legends came from across the country – for very little money – because Ruby and Ossie asked them to.

One day we did a show about gospel and it would be Billy Preston and a Dallas-area choir and they sang gospel,” Sanders said.

Here Ossie and Ruby perform And When The Revolution Came, a Carolyn Rodgers poem.

Dee’s partnership with KERA continued through the decades. She narrated After Goodbye: An AIDS Story, an Emmy-winning documentary about the Turtle Creek Chorale.  In 2000, Dee narrated Ready for Life, which followed Texas families raising infants.

"Ruby was the driving force"

Through the years, her friendship with Sanders flourished. They stayed in touch. She sent Christmas cards. Every time she came to Dallas she wanted to see him.

“She was so bigger that anyone could imagine but she always played this role of ‘It’s Ossie And Ruby.’ Well, in many ways, it was ‘Ruby and Ossie.’ Ruby was the driving force in that family.”

Davis died in 2005. Dee’s death came as a shock to Sanders.

“She didn’t have to embrace me,” Sanders said. “She didn’t have to accept me.”

His voice cracked.

“I can’t tell you the heartbreak that I feel,” he said. “I can’t tell you how emotional I am right now because I love her so. Because she loved me.”

For Sanders, Ruby Dee wasn’t just some famous actress or civil rights activist. She was his mentor and dear friend. 

Read more about Dee's KERA connection on Art&Seek.

KERA-TV to air With Ossie & Ruby June 24

The KERA production With Ossie & Ruby was a 26-part series that was distributed and broadcast nationally on PBS. The program was taped in the KERA studios in the early 1980s. KERA will air two programs from the series on June 24 from 7-8 p.m.  

1980s promotional spot for With Ossie & Ruby 

A segment from With Ossie & Ruby

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.