‘Passion’ for storytelling earns McIntyre national BBCE Award

Ruthie McIntyre recently earned the BBCEA Storyteller Award.
Ruthie McIntyre was a storyteller for many years — she just didn’t realize it.

The long-time teacher and educational administrator, now 80, said she used storytelling almost daily in her work. However, it was an introduction to the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough that led to the latest award-winning chapter in her adventure-filled life.

After more than two decades of concentrated work in the genre, the National Association of Black Storytellers recognized the Farragut resident’s talents and presented her with the 35th Annual Brother Blue Circle of Elders Award.

Named for Dr. Hugh Morgan “Brother Blue” Hill, “This esteemed award recognizes contributions and honored presence of Elders in the storytelling community,” a press release stated. “Ruthie’s passion and presence has been felt. We are honored to recognize her unwavering support of our mission.”

McIntyre has been a member of the group for more than 20 years and said she is honored by the award.

“I just pinch myself that I’m still alive,” she said with a smile and a hearty laugh.

In addition to the NABS, she is a member of Smoky Mountain Storytellers Association.

“I’m just grateful to still be doing it,” McIntyre said. “I told a story at my church in Maryville.

“I talked about ‘love, hope and peace, and which one is the real meaning of Christmas?’ I told them ‘I’m choosing love because I know the most about it.’”

Her late husband, Lonnie, passed away last year as the couple approached their 60th anniversary.

They met in high school in Indianapolis and together pursued many years of higher education, which eventually earned both Fulbright Exchange Teaching Grants in 1966.

That opportunity led them to England in 1966, and McIntyre said it was the first year ever two from the same family had been dual recipients.

When they came back to the United States in 1967 they lived in Michigan before spending eight summers consulting for the University of Tennessee. Lonnie moved to Knoxville when offered a permanent position at UT.

She joined him in 1990, and together they discovered the International Storytelling Center and its annual National Storytelling Festival.

“We just fell in love with storytelling,” she said, realizing pretty quickly it was a skill they had already been using.

“My husband went to divinity school, and was ordained as a minister,” McIntyre added. “Preachers use storytelling quite a bit.”

As a classroom teacher, McIntyre acknowledged, “anything you teach you have to have a good story for it, so to the students it’s not like learning — it’s like just hearing a story.”

McIntyre has “globe trotted” all over the world collecting fodder for her stories.

However, she is not beyond “making one up.” She challenged her church audience to guess whether a story she shared about her husband’s last moments “was true or not true.”

McIntyre said the couple had code words made up during their courtship, such as “you know” for “I love you.”

“We used it in front of the grown-ups, or when we stayed up some nights, all night, on the phone,” she said.

“When I was tiptoeing out of his room (his last night), I heard him say, ‘You’ve been a good wife,’” McIntyre added. “I came back in and asked, ‘Are you still there?’ He could hardly say it, and could barely get it out, but he said, ‘You know.’

“Was it true or not true? I’ll never tell. But my goal was to get them to talk about it, and they did.”