Ruth Lamb

by Sarah Yates Waller '01

Scripps has touched my soul so deeply and permanently that it is an integral part of my life. I carry Scripps inside me, everywhere, all the time. My relationship with Scripps is a complex one and yet so very simple. The College has always been there for me, throughout my life, in times of happy discovery, or reunion, as well as times of intense personal searching, or moments of painful transition. I have journeyed to Scripps like a touchstone many times in the 39 years since the first day I walked through the gates into the rose garden. Although the administration and faculty that greeted me changed through the years, the constant is their generous and nourishing spirit and lively intellect.

There are many Scripps stories I could tell to illustrate my point. I will ask your indulgence to read one I had occasion to put to paper recently:

I owe so much to Ruth Lamb’s dedication to her students. I had been one of her Spanish language students and had worked for her in the work-study portion of my scholarship. Unwisely, I dropped out of school to marry, and went to live in a mining camp in the Venezuelan interior. “Civilization” petered out at my small village, with no more paved roads all the way south to the Brazilian border. Yet, years after I left, she dropped in to see how I was doing “on her way” to Brazil or Argentina. (Believe me, my town was not “on the way” to anywhere!) I suspect she observed the confines of my village life (I had adapted to a culture that placed women in roles at least 100 years behind the times) and regretted the stultification of my intellectual growth. At any rate, she provided a kick-start to me. Within months of her visit, I received a handwritten note calling me back to attend an exciting intercollegiate study group on Latin American studies as the Scripps representative. That experience lead to fruitful research of my own in Venezuela and graduation from Scripps and work.

Eventually, I returned to the U.S. My marriage was failing, and I was planning to attend law school to prepare to support myself. I called Professor Lamb upon arriving and asked for a recommendation as my former faculty advisor. She said,”Of course,” and asked that I come by the house, as she was recuperating from surgery. She looked lovely and well, but was in a wheelchair, and attended by a nurse. She didn’t hesitate a minute, nor was she anything but gracious and welcoming. After catching up on personal news, she asked me to type the letter myself, and I thought she meant that I should take her dictation, returning for her signature. She said no, to bring her several sheets of paper. She told me what to say, wrote some notes, and then calculated the space on the page and just started signing blank pages. I felt very confused, knowing that it was not standard procedure and unsure how to accept it. She said she was tired and wished me all the best. After I left, the nurse came around from the back and flagged me down to tell me that Ruth Lamb was dying (she could see that I didn’t know). It was only then I saw that she was making sure I had my recommendations, and she knew she didn’t have much time left. She died shortly afterwards.