VACAVILLE, Calif. — Ruth Rowe Wilson grew up on one college campus, Bates, then became the wife of the president at another, Skidmore, before returning to Bates as a widow to build both a career in college publishing and friendships across generations of students, alumni, faculty and staff. Mrs. Wilson died Feb. 19, in Vacaville, Calif. She was 97.
In 1964, suddenly widowed with five of her six children still at home, she returned to Lewiston from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to work for Bates as the editor of its magazine and college publications, a position she learned as she went and held until 1980. At Skidmore and at Bates, she was a role model, but disliked the term. “It never occurred to me that I was playing a role,” she said in 1998. “I was just doing what I was doing.”
In tune with campus and society, among Wilson’s notable achievements as editor was candid coverage of the college’s community-engaged “Work With Us” civil action during the national Student Strike in 1970. She later served as class notes editor, until 2002. An astute yet playful grammarian, she was not above placing fictional class news items in the magazine. She enjoyed several years in her gardens at her home on College Street and in Ocean Park, her long-time summer home, before moving to California to be near family in 2007.
Ruth Rowe was born June 6, 1914, in Waterville, the daughter of Bates Dean Harry Rowe (Class of 1912) and Hope Chandler Rowe. A 1936 Bates graduate and sociology major, she married Val H. Wilson, a 1938 Bates graduate, who became Skidmore’s president in 1957. They could greet every student by name at Skidmore and enjoyed informal student events and visits in the dorms. After her husband’s death, Ruth returned to campus regularly and, in 1998, was awarded the college board’s Denis B. Kemball-Cook Award honoring a leader who “has given sacrificially of wisdom, time and talent.”
In 1986, the Bates College Alumni Association awarded Ruth Rowe Wilson its Distinguished Service Award.
One of her biggest interests was in international students at Bates and she always had a picnic for the group at her home at Ocean Park. Students unable to return home over vacations immediately became part of the Wilson family.
Mrs. Wilson was active with the Auburn-Lewiston YWCA and served as its board president. One of her daughters also recalls her mother’s own “mini-Marshall plan” that had them sending food and clothing to a family in East Germany in the late 1940s and 1950s.
Wilson is survived by sister, Esther R. Tallamy of Oakdale, N.Y.; sons, David (Sandra) of Littleton, N.H., Alden (A.J. ) of Palm Springs, Calif., and James (Catherine Solak) of Carrabassett; daughters, Carol (John) Grandin of Wakefield, R.I., Nancy (Larry) Schaffer of Brentwood, Calif., and Kathryn (Curt) Schmidt of Bound Brook, N.J.; as well as 16 grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.