On Monday, the world lost a presidential adviser, award-winning environmental scientist and someone who left a legacy in the CSRA that will likely never be forgotten.
Ruth Patrick, the venerable scientist whose name adorns the science education center at USC Aiken, died at the age of 105 this week, leaving behind an enormous impact locally and in her field. She will be remembered as a pioneer in many ways, but locally, her work at the Savannah River Site, even before the massive facility was completed in the 1950s, will be remembered for generations.
Through her research, she became recognized as perhaps the foremost authority on the nation’s river systems and was instrumental in defining modern ecology. Patrick worked for decades with the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, and even after eight decades of study, she reportedly was still coming into her office weekly at the age of 100.
In a recent remembrance from the Philadelphia Inquirer, the paper indicated that she was adored for her warmth in the halls of the Academy. The cafeteria staff would even make an exception for her and carry her tray to her table at lunch. In Washington D.C., she was instrumental in pushing Congress to pass the 1972 Clean Water Act, which remains the principal law focused on reducing and preventing water pollution. Additionally, she advised President Lyndon Johnson on environmental issues and was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Peer Review Committee on Acid Rain.
She also served as one of the earliest female scientists in her field and reportedly mentored generations of young scientists.
Her work, concentrating on water quality and water purity, ultimately helped to improve human life and the life of the natural world.
We hope local researchers and all the children who visit the center that bears her name will be inspired by her pioneering spirit and help to innovate in the world of science and technology. Over the past 23 years, it’s estimated that more than a million adults and children have visited the center on USC Aiken’s campus.
Although she wasn’t a native of South Carolina, Patrick’s legacy will forever be tied to the CSRA. As a role model for women and a pioneer in the world of science, our area should feel privileged to have seen her at work first hand.