OSTERVILLE- Ruth Talbot Plimpton, who lived in Amherst from 1960-1971 while her husband was president of Amherst College, died peacefully in her Osterville home at the age of 96.
Throughout her life she was a determined person. She grew up in a different age-- it was assumed that when she was 18 she would spend a year on the debutante circuit in order to acquire her "Mrs." Degree. But midway through that year, as she later explained, "I was bored out of my mind." Against her parents' strong objections, she took matters into her own hands. She marched into the Dean's office at Radcliffe College and pleaded for admission. The Dean was so impressed that she was admitted that same afternoon. After graduating from Radcliffe, she received an M.S.W. from the Simmons School for Social Work after writing her thesis on the history of foster care in Massachusetts.
She was an adventurous woman who was adept at talking her way out of difficult situations. While she was living in Beirut, Lebanon, during the civil war of 1958, rebel forces stopped her car and a soldier pointed a machine gun at her. With her two younger children in the back seat, Ruth calmly explained that her husband's hospital treated all victims of the war, including rebel forces, and she was allowed to pass. In 1962, she went to South Africa to do research on the Black Sash, a feminist group protesting Apartheid. She was arrested by the South African government for visiting the black township of Soweto, but again was able to talk her way out of the situation after spending a night in jail.
She wrote two books: Operation Crossroads Africa, about the organization that provided the model for the Peace Corps, and Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker, about an ancestor of hers who was hanged on the Boston Common because of her religious beliefs.
Ruth married Calvin Plimpton in 1941 and had five children. She is survived by her son David and his wife Barbara, her son Tom and his wife Juanita, her daughter Polly, and her son Ted and his wife Claudia. She is also survived by seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Her husband held numerous positions in the medical and academic world, including President of Amherst College, President of the American University of Beirut, and President of Downstate Medical Center. At Downstate, she founded the Child Life Program to help children deal with the emotional challenges of having a serious illness.
In lieu of flowers, donations in her honor can be made to Child Life Fund, SUNY-Dowstate Medical Center, 450 Clarkson Ave, Box 49, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11203.
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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Sept. 5, 2012