Mel Tillis, 1932-2017

Mel Tillis is dead at 85. He wasn’t as famous as the performers who made his songs into hits, and unless he was singing, he had a stutter. He mattered to me because of two things: he got up on stage and spoke despite the stutter, and he wrote “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” in 1967.
It was a different era. The cringe-inducing slogan “help the handicapped” was not only well-intentioned, it was actually needed, because many people in power thought disability was an ugliness best kept away from, well, everything. “Ruby” got wide airplay when Kenny Rogers recorded a cover in 1969. It was a country radio staple through the 70s. The ADA was not passed until 1990, and the Senate had to be shamed to quit stalling by the Capitol Steps Crawl. Listening to “Ruby” now feels strange, like seeing a picture of yourself in adolescence. Could we really have been moved by such mawkish lyrics? Yes. We had to start somewhere. Give it a listen and consider the courage of a man who wrote a song about attitudes he himself had experienced.

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.