RUTH C. CARPENTER

Obituary
  • "Fresh from the wonderful memorial service for Ruth..."
    - Lucy McDiarmid
  • "It's sixteen years ago this Fall since Mrs. Carpenter..."
    - Lucy Teitler
  • "May 5. 2012 Ruth Eleanor was a classmate at Franklin..."
    - Myrna S. Foster
  • "Ruth Carpenter taught me something that I have never..."
    - Elyse Parmentier
  • "Truly one of the greatest minds and spirits I have ever..."
    - Autumn Dornfeld

CARPENTER-- Ruth C. A teacher, mentor, literary scholar and friend of unparalleled intellect and generosity, Ruth Corn Carpenter, of New Milford, Connecticut and New York City, passed away peacefully on the evening of October 23, 2011. Only child of Lorlene Johnson and Wilbur Graves Corn, Ruth grew up in Franklin, Tennessee, and attended The Harpeth Hall School, where she was valedictorian. She was graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1957 with a B.A. in English, first in her class and summa cum laude. Among other honors, she was awarded Marshall and Fulbright scholarships, and studied at Cambridge University in England, where she received an M.A. She also won Bryn Mawr's European Fellowship, the college's highest honor for a member of the graduating class. Ruth then began a 50-year career studying and teaching literature. Many of her students have described her as the most brilliant mind and greatest teacher they have ever encountered in any field at any institution. She taught briefly at Barnard College, and in South Korea at Ewha Women's University, but primarily lavished her great literary and pedagogical gifts on the girls of the Brearley School in New York City, where she taught for 40 years, and where she was the guiding star of an English department that rivaled any in the country. Ruth opened the minds of thousands of Brearley girls to the abiding value of literature. She taught everything from Malory to Jane Austen to Samuel Beckett to Langston Hughes, but Shakespeare was her first love, literally. At the age of 12, she saw a traveling production of Hamlet in Franklin, Tennessee, and suddenly she "was in love" -- simultaneously with the red headed actor playing the lead, with Hamlet and with Shakespeare. It was to Ruth's Shakespeare elective that the students of Brearley flocked every year, and it was to Shakespeare that she primarily devoted her luminous attention after retiring from the Brearley School in 2000. From 2000 through 2011, Ruth was the head of adult education at, and taught Shakespeare seminars for, the Shakespeare Society in New York City. Like generations of Brearley girls, Ruth's adult students became enthralled by Ruth's remarkable ability to deepen, complicate and expand their understanding of, and feeling for, the fully formed characters we meet in Shakespeare's plays. Ruth Carpenter offered to all her students, young and old, a new way of comprehending Shakespeare, the world and themselves. That is the essence of her legacy to us all. She would have us continue to regard Shakespeare with new eyes; and to those who protest they cannot do that without her she would say (quoting readily from The Winter's Tale), "It is required you do awake your faith." Ruth was a radiant spirit and a devout humanist who also firmly believed in the immortality of the soul. Her enormously generous heart, a lifetime devoted to seeing human beings fully, in life as in literature, and her linguistic brilliance made her at once a wise and compassionate friend, and a wonderfully witty one too. The entire English language was at her command, and her grip on it never failed. Moreover, the invariable elegance of her attire matched the elegance of her mind, and we will rarely see her like again for sartorial perfection. For Ruth, as for Shakespeare, "nothing human was alien to her," and her sheer love of life and her friends rivaled that of her beloved Falstaff. She also made friends with bats and snakes and blue jays and geese and all the denizens of her Connecticut gardens that were a source of endless pleasure. Ruth now joins her loving partner of 20 years, Dick Gershman, who died in 1998. Ruth is survived by the love of her best friends Alexa and Fred Aldridge, Ann McDonald and Ellie Rittman, and by the love and devotion of all the Aldridges, who are her godchildren and family: Mindy Aldridge and her daughter, Katharine, and Richard and Kris Aldridge, and their children Hank, Eliza, Bo and Evie. Ruth's funeral will be private. A memorial service will be held in New York City, the details of which will be announced. Ruth asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Shakespeare Society, 118-122 Baxter Street, Suite 705, New York, New York 10013.

Published in The New York Times on Oct. 27, 2011