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Dr. Douglas Rucker dies at 79

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‘He had a true, genuine love for Lancaster and its people’

By Greg Summers

Lancaster County was shocked Friday by the death of Dr. Douglas Rucker, one of its most respected business and civic leaders, an inspiring ambassador for the community.
Rucker, founder of Rucker Dentistry on Chesterfield Avenue, died early Friday after suffering an apparent heart attack. Known for his infectious smile and giving nature, Rucker was 79.

“This is a tremendous loss for all of us,” said local attorney Robert Folks. “Douglas is a shining example of everything I wanted and want to be like. He was a good family man and father and a good businessman.
“He was everything that you want a community leader to be.”
Born in Honea Path, Rucker was the son of Ruth and A.R. Rucker and came here in the late 1940s. His father was one of the county’s leading educators. A.R. Rucker Middle School was named in his honor in 2002.
A graduate of Morehouse College and the Howard University College of Dentistry, Douglas Rucker returned here in 1966 and opened one of the county’s leading dental practices.
He was married to Ruby King Rucker and the father of eight children.
Rucker served on the Lancaster City Council in the 1970s.

Avoided limelight
Lancaster County school board member Tyrom Faulkner noted that the low-key Rucker was instrumental in community affairs behind the scenes but shunned the limelight. Faulkner said the dentist was extremely generous with his time and talents, but chose to remain quiet about it.
“He had so many ties and a network of connections that no one was aware of. Dr. Rucker could make things happen and you never had a clue that it was him. He had a true, genuine love for Lancaster and its people,” said Faulkner, director of the Lancaster Fatherhood Project.
“This is a big shock, and all of us have been thrown for a loop,” he said. “Dr. Rucker was a great man and role model for this entire community. He was a very caring person who would give you the shirt off his back. He just didn’t want anybody to know that it was his.
“We’ll never forget his beautiful smile. You could tell he was for your good.”  
Rucker was a charter member and past president of the Breakfast Rotary Club, something that Folks said he took great pride in.
“Dr. Rucker has been a giant in our community for decades and truly exemplified ‘Service above Self,’” said Sharon Novinger, executive director of Partners for Youth and one of Rucker’s fellow Rotarians. “Please keep Mrs. Rucker and their family in your thoughts and prayers.”

‘We were accepted’
Rucker was one of 12 local leaders featured in Travis Bell’s 2018 four-part documentary film “Lancaster Our Stories.” Bell put together the series to capture the spirit of a vibrant Southern textile town that’s gone, but not forgotten.
Bell said he had always heard stories about Rucker’s decision to open his practice here instead of in a major metropolitan area after graduating from dentistry school.
“His buddies were going to places like Chicago and tried to talk Dr. Rucker into coming with them. He made a choice to come back to Lancaster because he loved the people,” Bell said.
Dr. Rucker noted in the documentary that black professionals were always accepted and treated fairly here, even in the midst of Jim Crow laws and racial tension happening elsewhere.
“We were accepted as professional, period,” Rucker said in a November 2018 interview. “Not by the color of our skin, but what we could do to help.”

‘No place better’
 Rucker recalled in last year’s interview that his favorite memories of downtown Lancaster centered on 1952.
At age 12, Rucker got his first job at Buckelew’s Variety Store on Main Street in the heart of downtown.
“Oh, my goodness,” he said, laughing. “I cleaned floors, washed windows and still found time to speak to my friends. I also made a lot of friends.
“I learned what work was all about. My mom didn’t want me working, but Dad insisted. Mom told all the little ladies downtown to keep an eye on me, and they did,” Rucker said.
“A lot of those little ladies Mom had watching me became my patients,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade that for anything. To me, there’s no place better than Lancaster.”

Follow reporter Greg Summers on Twitter @GregSummersTLN or contact him at (803) 283-1156.