At the time of his death, the 52-year-old Ruiz was vice president of the Three Rivers school board. He had been a board member for almost two decades.
Ruiz’s death comes at a time when many in the community are taking great pride in the construction of new educational facilities by the Three Rivers ISD.
The joint Facebook page for Gilbert Ruiz and his longtime wife, Patty, is packed with well-meaning notes and affirmations lamenting his tragic death.
In one such online post, Bob Johanson said the community is going to miss Gilbert Ruiz terribly.
“He gave of himself for others at every chance and was just an all-around good guy,” Johanson wrote. “If we can be of service in any way, please call on us. I am praying for you and your entire family. God bless you. And God bless Gilbert.”
During a Monday night phone interview, Patty Ruiz said she believes her husband will be remembered for the pride he took in serving on the school board and helping children.
“He was a very outgoing, friendly guy,” Patty Ruiz said. “He did everything he could to help people with fundraisers. And he was always ready to help them cook.”
She said anyone who still wishes to express condolences to the Ruiz family is encouraged to do so to the e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Three Rivers Mayor Sam Garcia said during a separate Monday night phone interview that he and Ruiz were close. Ruiz was the godson of the mayor’s father.
“I have known him all my life,” the mayor said. “I went to school with him. He was a great athlete and a great family man. We will miss him because he was so active in the community.”
Gilbert Ruiz was very approachable, very easy to speak to and very interested in school matters, the mayor said.
“He was an all-around great guy,” Garcia said.
What distinguished Ruiz from others was his genuine concern for students in general, the mayor said.
Ruiz and his wife loved each other very much and had been childhood sweethearts, he added.
“She was — she is — deeply in love with him,” Mayor Garcia said. “They were school sweethearts, childhood sweethearts, and this is devastating for her. We are keeping her in all our prayers.”
Mayor Garcia said he got the call that Ruiz had passed away while he was on vacation with his family in the Houston area.
“He passed away after he and his wife went to a fundraiser in George West,” the mayor said. “They were coming back from the fundraiser when he had the heart attack. We were all kind of shocked by it.”
It has not yet been determined how Ruiz’s Three Rivers ISD colleagues will approach replacing him on the school board.
In addition to being an active board member, Ruiz also was a member of the Live Oak County Fair Board.
A resident of Three Rivers, he was employed with Valero Three Rivers Refinery and actively involved in United Way with Valero.
Back to the well wishes left online, Lori Haney of Houston — like many who left comments — said the Ruiz family will remain in her thoughts and prayers.
“I had the pleasure of working with Gilbert and appreciated his values and character in all things,” Lori Haney wrote in the guest book of Ruiz’s online obituary.
Sylvia Martinez, also of San Antonio, said in a similar post that Ruiz always spoke lovingly and proudly of Patti, his wife of 30 years, and all his children.
“He truly was one of the best,” she wrote.
Paula Mitchell left a post addressed directly to Ruiz, as if the school board member were still alive. Ruiz died on June 14. His birthday would have been June 25.
“Happy birthday, Gilbert, my dear friend,” she wrote. “I miss you. So does everyone! You were so much in love with your wife and so proud of your kids. I am 100 percent sure you are cooking brisket in Heaven!”
Ruiz’s passing takes place around the same time the Three Rivers ISD is laying the concrete foundation for the new elementary school.
The new elementary school under construction will feature state-of-the-art classroom designs and will emphasize safety and learning, district officials said.
It’s a great message for a school to have, Facebook posters agreed.
“We’re moving on up!” Susan Nowlin Terry posted on Facebook.
Wendy Prather White was impressed at the work on the new school but lamented, “my kids are sad to see their old buildings gone.”
Others agreed wholeheartedly.
“Wow!” observed Scott Shumate on FB. “I think I see my fourth-grade classroom in the background!”
Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.