The highly respected foodservice consultant Ruby Parker Puckett FFCSI passed away on June 5, 2023. A pioneering voice in US nutrition and dietetics and an author of many notable books on that subject and disaster relief, Puckett dedicated more than four decades of tireless service to the sector.
Born in 1932, Puckett grew up on her grandfather’s farm in Birmingham, Alabama, where her family moved after the depression, Puckett counted her grandfather as one of the most influential people in her life. “He taught me how to ride a horse, how to fish, how to relate to and treat others,” she told Amelia Levin in an interview about her life and career in 2019.
Puckett attended Woodlawn High School in Birmingham (from which she would later earn an Alumni Hall of Fame award), before studying home economics and nutrition at Auburn University. She completed her internship at Henry Ford Hospital in Michigan and, after serving as a dietitian at other hospitals, she earned her MA in Healthcare Science Education from Central Michigan University. She spent most of her career at Shands Hospital. She served from 1968-1992 as director of food and nutrition services.
Blazing a trail
By the early 1970s word of her pioneering work was spreading fast. “When I joined Dietary Products in 1974, our president kept talking about Ruby Puckett,” says Char Norton FFCSI, a great friend and colleague of Puckett’s. “I met her when we served on the first American Dietetic Association [the ADA officially changed its name to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012] committee to investigate productivity of foodservice workers. That was just the start of Ruby and I being on numerous committees in several professional organizations. Our friendship developed as we became roommates at the many meetings of FCSI, AND, and HFM. As time went on people expected to see both of us to together at the many organizations.
“As our friendship grew, many questioned how two very strong, opinionated women could get along so well. We even co-authored three books to share our experience and information with the foodservice industry. We were each other’s cheerleaders and critics. She reviewed what I wrote, and I reviewed what she wrote. Larry [Puckett’s beloved husband], was the final reviewer for both of us.”
One of Puckett’s most notable works is the AHA’s Food Service Manual for Healthcare Institutions (revised by Puckett in 2004 with the fourth edition published in 2013) while she co-authored Food Service Management: A Systems Approach to Healthcare and Institutions. She authored countless other papers, and published 12 books, six chapters in other textbooks, and gave over 435 presentations to local, state, national and international audiences. She co-authored Disaster and Emergency Preparedness in Food Service Operations with Norton, published by the American Dietetic Association in 2003.
A new chapter
Puckett’s unofficial ‘debut’ into the realm of consulting, and, she said, one of her greatest achievements at Shands came about in the early 1990s when the hospital petitioned for a total renovation of the existing foodservice program. Puckett became the first department director to be appointed as the project manager for the total renovation of any part of the hospital.
While at Shands, Puckett taught systems management at the University of Florida, but one of her greatest accomplishments was her work with the Dietary Managers Training professional certificate program. She founded it in 1972 and it has since expanded to an online program.
She left to start her own business in 1995, Foodservice Management Consultants, working nationally with major university hospital foodservice departments, developed HACCP programs as well as other educational programs, and continued to publish regularly. She also developed and provided education materials, free of charge, to colleges, universities and dietitians in England, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. Some of her work has even been translated into other languages.
“I began a full-time consultant prior to Ruby’s retirement and her becoming a consultant,” says Norton. “I felt that I had found my niche and suggested that she join. Her involvement took off. She loved to discuss being on the FCSI board and then the Educational Foundation. When I was encouraged to become a Fellow of FCSI, I encouraged her to also apply. It is debatable if she or I are the second registered dietitian [RD] and fourth woman ever to be inducted in FCSI’s prestigious Council of Fellows, the highest honor given by the association. She said that I had to be the first and third since I made her fill out the paperwork. Neither of us cared who was first since we did it together.”
Such a legacy
In December 2018 Puckett stood down from FCSI’s Educational Foundation. She had served as president, treasurer and director. She also spent three years on the board of directors for The Americas Division (TAD), authored the revised Code of Ethics, and served on the task force to develop the TAD magazine as well as contributing to FCSI’s Foodservice Consultant magazine as a regular columnist.
In 2012, Puckett was inducted into FCSI’s prestigious Council of Fellows, the highest honor given by the association. Describing this as “a special honor”, Puckett was also invited to become part of the Athenaeum Society of the University of Florida in 2010.
Ruby left such a legacy,” said Patricia M. Babjak, Chief Executive Officer, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Puckett was married to Larry W. Puckett, her high school sweetheart, with whom she had two daughters, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. “I am so blessed to have a loving husband and family,” said Puckett.
Norton remained great friends with Puckett until her passing. “We still had so much catching up to do,” she says.
Ruby Parker Puckett FFCSI’s funeral will be held on Saturday, June 17, in Gainesville, Florida.
Michael Jones, with additional reporting by Amelia Levin
Pictures: Ryan Ketterman