Rebecca Ranson

Rebecca Hargett Ranson, 1943-2017

The following is an obituary written by the family of Rebecca Ranson.

Rebecca Hargett Ranson, playwright, activist and arts leader, passed on to the next life on Sept. 4, 2017, at the age of 73, following a brave and dignified battle with Alzheimer’s. Her son, daughter-in-law and sister were by her side. To the very end, she was loving to those around her and loved by everyone who knew her.

Rebecca was a native of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and a resident of Durham, North Carolina, Pine Lake, Georgia, and Cape Charles, Virginia. She was the daughter of Hall-of-Fame University of North Carolina Tarheels track coach Dale Ranson and his wife, Etta Mae Ranson. She attended the University of Georgia, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Radio, Television, and Film in 1970. She earned a Master of Fine Arts in Playwriting at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in 1975. She was a Tarheel, always and forever.

Rebecca RansonWrote one of first plays dealing with AIDS

A unique and adventurous soul, Rebecca was filled with compassion for and interest in others. Her home was always open to rescued animals and wayward people alike. Her life and her work focused on social justice in almost every form. She marched for civil rights, raised her voice for all forms of equality, tirelessly cared for people living with HIV/AIDS, taught acting and writing to prison inmates and worked passionately to support community-based arts, media and theater programs.

Rebecca wrote dozens of plays, spanning themes of heart and humanity, often based in her own life experiences. One of her plays was named “Warren,” after her dear friend who died of AIDS in 1984. It was one of the first plays dealing with AIDS to be produced and it stood apart due to its highly personalized and loving tone and because it was written not only by a woman, but a woman from the South.

Other notable plays penned by Rebecca include “The Incarceration of Annie,” “Desperadoes: A Trilogy,” “Elmatha’s Apology” and “Blood on Blood.” She also conducted and transcribed interviews with AIDS patients in San Francisco, disabled adults in North Carolina, racial minorities in Atlanta, multi-ethnic fishermen of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay and other diverse individuals. Her collected writings are now archived at Emory University.

Wrote, staged productions for Atlanta LGBT community

In the early ’70s, along with William Coke Ariail III, Rebecca started a vibrant community theater in Durham called Pocket Theater. In 1976, Rebecca participated in the founding of Alternate ROOTS in New Market, Tennessee, based in her passion for arts production and community-based action in the rural South. Ten years later, she went on to co-found SAME (Southeast Arts, Media and Education) in Atlanta. Her work in Atlanta gave her the opportunity to write on behalf of and stage productions for the LGBT community and led to her receiving the Robert Chesley Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Rebecca laughed easily and often, enjoyed red wine, took long walks with her dogs and loved talking about her son Charlie. She is survived by her sister Laura; her son, Charlie and his wife, Stacey; and her grandsons, Brett and Kevin. The family is eternally grateful to Robert Sellers of Cape Charles and Kimberly McCowan of Oxford, North Carolina, who provided care and support for Rebecca that allowed her to remain in her home with her beloved dogs for as long possible. We would also like to thank the exceptional staff of Heritage Hall who provided loving and gracious care to Rebecca in her final years.

Rebecca RansonPublic celebration at 7 Stages Theatre

Rebecca, known to many as “Brownie Broadway,” left us these parting words some years ago, when her mind was free and clear.

“I would like to thank all of you for being a part of my life and loving me,” she said. “It has been good. I have been happy. Stay with your dreams and make the world better. I love you.”

A public celebration of her rowdy, dedicated, creative and humor-filled life will be held at 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, at 4 p.m.

A private ceremony for family and close friends will be held in Chapel Hill on Nov. 2, 2017.

For those wishing to honor Rebecca Ranson’s life, please consider making a donation to The Alliance of AIDS Services – Carolina or to 7 Stages Theatre in Atlanta.

Online condolences may be sent to the family at

Arrangements were made by Doughty Funeral Home in Exmore, Virginia.