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The “Mayor of City Hall”

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Ruth Thomas, at the controls in 1970; contributed photo via Chattanooga Times Free Press

The profession of elevator operator is quickly fading from the public consciousness, but there was a time when you couldn’t ride an elevator without having someone at the controls. These men and women often became ambassadors for their buildings, offering advice or a sympathetic ear, or maybe just exchanging friendly banter.  One such “diplomat,” notes the Chattanooga Times Free Press, was Ruth Thomas, whose 44 years operating an elevator at the seat of municipal government in the Tennessee city earned her the title “Mayor of City Hall.” From 1943 to 1987, Thomas was witness to the comings and goings of all manner of VIPs: politicians, business executives, celebrities and more. Such was the respect she earned that she was even asked to stand in for the city’s fire and police commissioner during a dinner honoring a local coach. There were city officials who went so far as to claim — and, not entirely jokingly — that Thomas was the one who actually “ran” city hall.

One of the old building’s elevators was replaced with an automatic, push-button model in 1966, but the city waited until Thomas retired in 1987 to replace “Old Creaky,” the car she ran for all those years. She was afforded the honor of taking the first official ride in the new lift. You’d have to say she went out on top.

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