Dr. Ruth Patrick, who had been a member of EESI's board from its 1984 inception to 2010 and remained an advisory board member until her death, passed away on September 23, 2013, at the age of 105. Carol Werner, EESI's Executive Director, noted her passing with deep sadness. "Ruth was a true pioneer, both as a woman in a male-dominated field and as a ground-breaking environmental researcher. EESI was extremely lucky to have her as a board member for 26 years; we greatly benefited from her advice and support." Indeed, Dr. Patrick participated in several water quality protection projects, including as a panelist with Members of Congress in a series of EESI-sponsored public meetings around the country to determine the needs and options for national ground-water protection legislation. Dr. Patrick often chaired EESI briefings and meetings, frequently lending her name and influence to EESI's congressional proposals.
Having begun her career in natural sciences in 1934, Dr. Patrick faced adversity in a male-dominated field. Yet despite these challenges, she laid the foundations for the environmental movement and made lasting contributions to ecology. Dr. Patrick's studies focused on water and air pollution at a time when these concepts had barely penetrated public consciousness. One of her major contributions to the field of limnology was to assess the level of water pollution by measuring the presence of diatoms, widespread single-celled organisms, in the water. Instead of measuring chemical levels, measuring the presence of simple life forms gives a better assessment of total ecosystem health. Because of her work, using biodiversity as the chief indicator of water health is now known as the Patrick principle.
Dr. Patrick was a pioneer in using scientific findings to advocate for public change. Dr. Patrick's work in limnology generated political attention for the problem of water pollution, and in 1972, she helped write and pass the Clean Water Act. She also contributed to the political debate by advising Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Ronald Reagan on environmental issues. In addition to breaking ground with water pollution legislation, Dr. Patrick was also one of the earliest scientists to speak out about global warming.
Throughout her career, Dr. Patrick wrote over 200 articles and contributed to several books. From 1973 to 1976, she was the first woman to chair the Academy of Natural Sciences' Board of Trustees. Additionally, Dr. Patrick taught botany at the University of Pennsylvania for 35 years. During her many years of work, Dr. Patrick earned multiple awards, including the national Medal of Science and the Benjamin Franklin Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement.
Dr. Ruth Patrick leaves behind an impressive legacy of trail-blazing in the field of ecology; her contributions to the environment have been important and long lasting. Ruth Patrick is survived by her son, Charles Hodge V, 3 stepchildren, 15 grandchildren, and 18 great grandchildren.
Author: Gabrielle Tilley