Ruth Donovan Ruth, a pediatrician who specialized in patients with developmental disabilities, died peacefully at her home on July 29, 2022 in Rye, N.Y., surrounded by her family. She was 98 years old.
Born on May 12, 1924 to Katherine and Timothy Donovan, she was the youngest of four children of a close-knit American Irish family in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Her father owned and operated a fleet of tugboats and barges on the Hudson River. Her mother, a former schoolteacher, was active in a variety of charitable and social organizations in Brooklyn.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and math in 1945 from Notre Dame College of Maryland, she decided, with the enthusiastic support of her parents, to become a physician.
In 1949, she received her medical degree from Long Island School of Medicine, known today as SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Following an internship at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, she completed her residency in pediatrics at Columbia-Presbyterian Babies Hospital in Manhattan, where she had the honor of working under renowned chief of pediatrics, Dr. Rustin McIntosh.
Ruth formed many close friendships with medical school classmates and colleagues, among them Dr. Lillian Dooher with whom she opened a private medical practice in East Williston, N.Y., following her pediatrics residency.
In 1956, she met Joseph Ruth, a civil engineer and widower with three children: Joe, Jack, and Cathy. She recalled that the thought crossed her mind after their first date that his last name might present a challenge should a relationship progress to marriage. Perhaps it would be better to introduce him to her college friend Alice instead.After their second date, however, she decided she might like to keep him for herself.
The couple was married on June 29, 1957, and Ruth Ruth she became, moving to live with Joe and his family in Eastchester, N.Y.
Over the next decade, the couple had four more children: Mary, Anne, Julie, and Tim. The Ruth family moved to Scarsdale, N.Y. in 1967, and spent many happy summers in Sag Harbor, N.Y., Joe’s father’s hometown.
As a physician, Ruth Ruth was always known professionally as Dr. Donovan, a loving tribute to the parents who financed her medical school education.
After her marriage, she continued to practice medicine while attending to the needs of her large family. In the 1960s she worked two mornings a week at various clinics, including The St. Agnes Home and School for Children in Sparkill, N.Y.
When her youngest child, Tim, entered first grade in 1971, she embarked on a rewarding new professional chapter, obtaining a fellowship to specialize in the diagnosis and care of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
She began working with Dr. Margaret Giannini, founder of the Mental Retardation Institute (MRI) in Manhattan, one of the first clinics in the U.S. devoted exclusively to serving patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities and providing support to their families.
In 1972, Dr. Giannini asked Ruth to direct MRI’s outpatient department at its new campus at Westchester County Medical Center in Valhalla, known today as the Westchester Institute for Human Development. She agreed, provided that she could still see patients every day.
For more than 20 years, she led a first-rate team at MRI in partnership with Dr. Elinor Binnebosel, using Dr. Giannini’s ground-breaking, multi-disciplinary model to provide diagnostic and therapeutic services, as well as a full range of medical services, education, and social work support to patients with special needs and their families. She also maintained a flexible work arrangement that allowed her to be home by 3 every afternoon for her children.
At age 50, Ruth lost her beloved husband after a six-month illness in 1974. She gracefully and lovingly completed the responsibilities of raising their four children as a single parent.
In 1987, Ruth decided to retire from full-time medical practice, and kept her hand in professionally for several years afterward with locum tenens assignments in St. Lucia and North Carolina.
In 1996, she was among the first wave of retirees to move to Sterling Park in Rye, N.Y., the independent living section of The Osborn, where she was affectionately known as “Dr. Ruth”. Over the next 26 years, she formed many cherished friendships, enjoyed a broad range of activities, and kept a social calendar that was the envy of her children.
A lifelong learner, she delighted in the opportunity to take courses at nearby Manhattanville College in subjects far removed from science and medicine, especially art history and literature.
Ruth Ruth loved a great bridge game and enjoyed regular foursomes with friends throughout her life. She always played Scrabble, Boggle and Monopoly to win – there was no coddling of children and grandchildren during summer evenings playing board games in Sag Harbor.
For some forty years, she was an active parishioner at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Scarsdale, then a parishioner at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye, N.Y. for the remainder of her life. In her retirement she enjoyed being a lector.
Ruth Ruth is survived by her daughters Mary, Anne, and Julie; her son Tim and his wife Christina; and her two grandchildren, Natalie and Joseph.
“Mom was our role model, our number one cheerleader, and the most wonderful friend we could have ever had,” said her children.
A Mass of Christian Burial was held August 5 at The Church of the Resurrection in Rye. Interment will be private in Sag Harbor, N.Y. The family donations to be made to Doctors Without Borders