Ruth Miller Besemer of Boulder, Colorado, and I exchanged letters for several months before we met.  She sent the first in 1999, when The Rockford Institute held the annual meeting of the John Randolph Club in Georgetown.  The Saturday-evening debate topic was: “Resolved: Conservatives in D.C. haven’t done a damn thing.”  To a check for $250 to support the event, she attached a brief note: “You’re damn right they haven’t!”

On May 5 the quiet, lovely lady who had become known to the staff of The Rockford Institute and to their families as “Aunt Ruth” died.  She was 94 years old.  For the better part of a decade she served on the Institute’s board of directors, and when the history of Chronicles is written, the record will show that her quiet and superabundant generosity kept our lights on and the presses running.

A Long Island native, Ruth, as a young woman, had worked as a bookkeeper and a librarian before landing a job at HarperCollins.  When she joined our board she said to me, “Tell George Garrett that I knew Henry Hoyns.  He didn’t have much of a sense of humor.  He scolded my girlfriends and me for a harmless office prank.”  Ruth never mentioned just how harmless.

Sometime in the 70’s, she and her husband, Arthur, moved to Denver, where he and his brother had operated an ammunition factory during the war.  When the Besemers began their retirement, the Rockies called them back.  Before long, they were in a ranch set into the side of a hill in the rural outskirts of Boulder, looking each day across the basin at Ruth’s beloved Flatirons, and at the snow-capped Long’s Peak—one of the Centennial State’s “14ers,” as Ruth liked to explain.  When Arthur died, she moved into Boulder, to an apartment in a beautifully restored property that had once been a girls’ school, and with no less of a view.

On my visits to Boulder, Ruth and I would take drives in the mountains of Estes State Park and end the day with dinner at her favorite restaurant, John’s on Pearl Street.  Ruth loved Boulder, but she had no illusions about the oddballs who are drawn to the place.  Whenever we would encounter a Boulderite walking his dog along the Boulder Creek path, Ruth would remind me, “We have no pet owners here, only ‘pet guardians’!”

Only in her last three years did Ruth slow down.  Before she stowed her small green suitcase for the final time, she had joined us for several meetings of the John Randolph Club, Summer Schools, and four overseas Convivia: Lombardy, Tuscany, Rome, and Paris.  At every event you could find Ruth among the pipe smokers.  “I smoked a pipe during the war because we couldn’t get cigarettes.”  When my children would bring home puritan propaganda about the life-shortening effects of smoking, I would say, “Apparently Aunt Ruth hasn’t heard.”

Ruth’s only child, Donald, worked for the Forest Service and lost his life as a young man in an accident in the line of duty.  In her last years, the staff of the Institute became her family.  Chilton and Maureen Williamson made frequent visits to her in Boulder.  When Ruth was through Chicago, Srdja and Mirjana Trifkovic took her to the opera.  When Ruth fell ill with infection in Paris, Jan Kooistra tended her at bedside.  She was dear to all of us and very dear to Jackie and me and our boys.

She joined us for Thanksgiving and Christmas, ever ready to raise a glass or two of Scotch before dinner.  “Never refuse a drink, Arthur would say,” she was fond of repeating each time her glass was charged.

Five years ago, Ruth joined the Checks in the High Southwest for a vacation.  On the day she was to fly from Durango back to Boulder, we took the narrow gauge rail up to Silverton, planning to take the bus back to Durango in plenty of time for her late-afternoon flight.  In Silverton we learned that an avalanche had blocked the road and that we would have to take the train back.  Knowing that the train would not arrive in time for her flight, Ruth and I asked the conductor his advice.  On the return, he graciously stopped the train at an intersection south of the block, and the good people of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad met us with a car.  Ruth made her plane with just minutes to spare, but through none of it did I sense the least concern or apprehension.

Indeed, she was impossible to fluster.  When, on one occasion, she did miss not one but two flights in the same trip, causing us to be separated en route to Florence, she bided her time for 12 hours in the Amsterdam airport.  “I walked around some and waited for my flight,” she said.

Ruth always took the long view.  It appeared on a ring she wore on her right hand.  She was very proud of it and showed it to me several times.  It was a gold signet ring bearing Constantine’s motto, In hoc signo vinces.  Of course.

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and let your perpetual light shine upon her.  May her soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.