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Currents: in memoriam: ruth randolph woodman '40

Alumna, Friend and Former First Lady of the College Ruth Randolph Woodman '40 (1920-2011)

Ruth Randolph Woodman, a member of the Class of 1940 and a longtime friend of the college, died at the age of 90 in New London, N.H., on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011, after a period of declining health. Ruth had lived at Woodcrest Village in New London for the past five years, and remained supportive of and close to Colby-Sawyer College until the end of her life.

Ruth was born Nov. 23, 1920 in Newton, Mass., the third and last child of Jacob H. and Helen Randolph. She studied ballet from an early age, attended Newton public schools and Colby Junior College, now Colby-Sawyer College, and then trained in ballet in New York under famed dancer, teacher and choreographer Vincenzo Celli. In 1941, Ruth married Everett M. Woodman, born in Franklin, N.H. His first teaching position was at Colby Junior College from 1939 to 1941. Soon after their marriage he departed for military service in World War II. After three years in the Navy as a lieutenant, he returned to Colby to teach until 1946.

Upon completion of his doctoral studies in 1948, Dr. Woodman taught at the University of Illinois and was appointed a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Lyon and Strasbourg in France. His work also took the Woodmans to India, and it was there that Ruth revived her dance career. From 1952 to 1954, Dr. Woodman worked as a cultural affairs officer for the United States Information Agency, and for an interim as acting public affairs officer for South India in Madras, now Chennai, India. In Madras, the Woodmans lived next door to three young South Indian women known as the Travancore Sisters, who were popular film stars and classical Indian dancers. The neighbors became fast friends and soon Ruth was studying the Bharata Natyam dance form under their guru. She performed with the three sisters and dancer (later film actor and painter) Bhaskar Roy Chowdhury.

In 1954, the growing Woodman family moved to New Delhi, where Dr. Woodman served as an attaché at the U.S. Embassy and as director of the Educational Exchange Program for four years. In New Delhi, Ruth gave birth to their fourth daughter and founded the American-International Ballet School, where she taught pupils of a dozen nationalities. American dancer Richard Maitland joined her in teaching and performing, and the school put on many concerts, dancing for India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and to benefit the Bengal Flood Relief Fund and the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

When Dr. Woodman was appointed president of Colby Junior College in 1962, Ruth worked tirelessly to promote the cultural life of the college. In 1972, as her husband's tenure ended, the college awarded Ruth an honorary bachelor's degree, citing her patronage of the arts.

After leaving Colby Junior College, Dr. Woodman served as president of the Nature Conservancy in Washington, D.C. Later he was appointed director of the Peace Corps in Morocco. Colby-Sawyer College presented him with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in May of 1995.

Long after Dr. Woodman's presidency, the Woodmans returned to the New London area. They remained intensely interested in the college, participated in campus activities and engaged in many friendships across campus. The college's Everett and Ruth Woodman Dance Studio is named in their honor.

Ruth was an excellent athlete and fervent student of languages, studying French, Hindi and Arabic. She could often be seen in the college's dining hall at the French Table, sharing her stories and wisdom with current students and anyone fortunate enough to join the group. She was renowned for her hospitality, warmth and gift for making people feel special.

Colby-Sawyer Librarian Carrie Thomas and her husband, Professor of Natural Sciences Bill Thomas, used to dine with the Woodmans and remember Ruth as “a very nice lady who truly loved the college.” The Cleveland Colby Colgate Archives hold the Ruth R. Woodman Papers, a collection that documents her life and includes childhood and adult photographs, high school and college degrees, and correspondence.

“Until not long ago, a bright spot of the annual Alumni Holiday Party at Colby-Sawyer was a visit from the Woodmans,” recalls Vice President of Advancement Beth Cahill. “Ruth loved to share with all of us how much she and Everett enjoyed their years in the President's House, and how happy they were to see it now filled with the Galligan family, their pets, friends and, most of all, Colby-Sawyer students. It was easy to see, even years after leaving her role as first lady of the college, how much it meant to Ruth to have the house filled with students, music and fellow alumni.”

The legacy of President and Mrs. Woodman will live on in part through the recently renamed Everett M. and Ruth R. Woodman Award at Colby-Sawyer College. This annual award seeks to make the college more affordable and accessible for transfer students.

Ruth was predeceased by her husband in 2007, and by her brother J. Hepner Randolph and her sister, Jane Kendall. She is survived by daughters Betsy Woodman of Andover, N.H., Lee Woodman of Washington, D.C., Jane Cohen of Jamaica Plain, Mass., and Deborah Coleman of Watertown, Mass.; by grandchildren Ben Coonley of Brooklyn, N.Y., Genevieve Cohen of San Diego, Calif,, and Eliot Cohen of Boston, Mass.; by sister-in-law Dorothy Hatch of Portland, Maine; by sons-in-law, Lawrence Ballon of Washington, D.C., Robert Cohen of Boston, Mass., and Walter Coleman of Watertown, Mass.; and by several nieces and nephews.

A private family service will be held at a later date.

Contributions in Ruth Woodman's memory may be made to the Everett M. and Ruth R. Woodman Award, c/o Chris Reed, Director of Annual Giving and Advancement Services, Colby-Sawyer College, 541 Main Street, New London, N.H. 03257. Chris can be reached at 603-526-3797 or 800-266-8253 or via e-mail at