Sally Ruddick changed my life. Her thinking taught me how to think differently. Her emotional life, with its many bridges to mine, yet also with wide chasms of difference between us, enhanced and educated me in the range of feelings experienced by us humans, even those who are very close to each other. Her utter authenticity and emotional generosity were models for me, when I told her the truth despite argument, when she utterly confused me, when I guiltily lied, when I passionately agreed, or when I was simply silent in her clarifying insights.
Sally was a woman of conscious and deeply explored conflicts, who disliked conflict, and hated armed conflict, who wrote again and again to try to resolve intellect and feeling, which for her often meant conflict within. But she faced it bravely, with uncommon courage and determined desire. She felt things deeply, as deeply and personally as anyone I have ever known, whether love and admiration for friends, children, grandchildren, students, colleagues, above all her beloved husband and life companion, Bill, or for public figures, like Woolf, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, President Obama, who despite her disappointments, and severe differences, especially in his war policies, she could, in her words, in a way, not stop loving. She asked me once if I thought of him as a kind of husband, or brother, and I responded, more like a son. She loved that, and kept quoting it to me, though I was embarrassed by it.
In her teaching at the Seminar College, Sally counted on passion grounded in knowledge and serious thought, on conversation with others, on reading and rereading texts, on listening to student voices in order to learn anew – a progressive, a radical approach to teaching. These, for her, counted far more than formal graduate study, though she loved that too, and taught and learned in the academy, and would not diminish it, even as she became one of its more enlightened critics.
During her last months, I witnessed her incredible courage , as I had during the decades of her increasing illness. She had praise for every stranger who helped her, cab drivers, waiters, people on the street who paused so she could move with her walker; for her helpers in her illness; for her dearest friends who accompanied her through the illness. I will never forget or cease to be moved by her famous generosity, not only of money – though of that too – but also of the beautiful Bellport, shared with her friends and Bill’s, of her attention, her undivided, attentive love – for her children and grandchildren, her son-in-law and daughter-in-law and their families, and for her beloved companion of more than fifty years, Bill, the incomparable man she lived with and learned with.
In many ways, she had the soul of a poet, loving emotion, loving thought, thinking and feeling, feeling and thinking. As she lay dying, she thought of how to protect others from her own pain and sorrow, but also about how to insist on what she needed and wanted. She spoke truth to power, always, and always in a deep and true radical voice – to academic power, to state power, to medical power, to the end.
I will miss her friendship. I hear her voice every day.