Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Goodbye Dr. Ruth Patrick


Ruth Patrick was born in Topeka Kansas on November 29, 1907 and died on Monday, September 23, 2013; she was one hundred and five years old.  One hundred and five years is a long time, but Dr. Patrick didn’t waste one day of those years.

                                                   Dr. Patrick is fourth from the left

She was an Environmental Scientist working eight decades at the Academy of Natural Sciences on 19th and the Parkway in Philadelphia. She was called “The den mother of ecology” by the Harvard University biologist, E. O. Wilson.

What did she do? Well, she was the nation’s authority on river systems and had devised a model called the “Patrick Principle”, which was used to gauge the health of a body of water. She was an activist and an authority on diatoms.

Diatoms are single cell organisms that scientist use as indicators of the quality of water found in streams and rivers. She knew her stuff and people knew it. She was the first woman environmentalist to be appointed to the DuPont Company’s Board of Directors. She advised President Johnson on water pollution; Ronald Regan on acid rain; worked with Congress on legislation that led to the nation’s primary water pollution laws. Congress listened to her, Presidents listened to her, and corporations listened to her.
She was a petite woman who received the National Medal of Science form President Clinton in 1996. You can go on line and learn about her many accomplishments, but I wanted to talk about the Dr. Ruth Patrick that the staff at the Academy grew to love and respect.

 Dr. Ruth Patrick was a friendly patient woman who enjoyed talking with any of the staff, who took the time to sit with her while she ate her lunch in the Academy’s café. I would sit and chat with Dr. Patrick if I had some free time from my busy day. But, believe me, I wasn’t the only staff member that sat mesmerized as she talked about the collection of diatoms, or the research expeditions that she went on.
She talked about her father, Frank Patrick, a lawyer with a love of nature. It was he who gave the young Ruth her first microscope. She talked about the early years at the Academy during a time when woman were not readily accepted in the field of science. She was proud of her work. Dr. Ruth Patrick was a woman who inspired others to greatness. She was a friend.
Some people will read about her in the obituaries and say, “She lived a long life.” But to those of us, who got to know the woman behind the scientist, we’ll say, “Not long enough.”
Goodbye Ruth, you'll be a hard act to follow.

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