Ruth Foster in her eponymously-named shop, Ruth Foster's, in Ellsworth. Photo by Tim Suellentrop. Credit: Tim Suellentrop

When you hear the name Ruth Foster, you may immediately think of the long time children’s clothing store in downtown Ellsworth. That, however, is simply window shopping.

What is behind that storefront is a caring and giving woman known to many as an example of  trust, respect, equality, perseverance, kindness and consideration. 

Micki Sumpter, Ellsworth’s Economic Development Director, has known Foster for about 20 years.

“[Ruth] keeps active, always working on a project and the community benefits from her work,” said Sumpter. ”She practices what she preaches and is good for all people.”

Others equate Foster to being a strong public servant, the epitome of volunteerism, and a pillar of the community.

After raising two daughters in her 40s, she wanted a new challenge. That triggered a political career. Foster served on the Ellsworth City Council and was mayor during some of that time. “That was the greatest job,” she said.

But Foster didn’t stop there. She then traveled to Augusta, serving four terms as a state representative and then two terms in the Maine senate, leaving a lasting impression for her ability to mediate, persuade, resolve and compromise.

Foster is known for her many political contributions, especially her 1984 landmark legislation concerning the welfare of Maine’s children that remains in effect today. While on the judiciary committee, Foster developed the law which made mediation mandatory in contested divorce cases. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court honored Foster for her work, and she was named Legislator of the Year in 1988 at the Maine State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Conference.

For State Senator Brian Langley of Ellsworth, Ruth Foster has been a mentor. “Ruth has tremendous institutional knowledge with a keen political mind,” he said, and he still receives guidance. “In the back of her store there are two camp chairs and a table, and that’s where we sit. She has no shortage of insight or opinions, and I cherish the ability to talk with someone who has had this job.”

Admirers refer to her as “one of a kind.” Her attention to Maine and the greater Ellsworth community did not stop with her political career. Foster is founder of the Maine State Cultural Affairs Council, served as president of the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary and Woodlawn Museum, and she has served on the boards of Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, Maine Coast Memorial Hospital and Maine Coast Memorial’s Health Foundation. “I have been on boards and this and that,” she said.

In addition, she’s been the proprietor of a children’s clothing store which has anchored Ellsworth’s Main Street retail district for the past 33 years. “When I was in the legislature, I had people coming to my house all the time, and so I needed an office,” she said. After retiring from politics, Foster turned that office space into a profitable business. “I didn’t even know how to run the cash register, but I wanted to have fun with whatever I did next.”

As for what is next for the spry 88-year-old, that is not known, but it’s clear there are no plans for retirement. As only Ruth Foster could say it—“Who retires? You don’t retire.”