Ruth Ahoy: Adventurer with a lifelong commitment to fairness and social justice

Ruth (Altamirano) Ahoy, who died on Nov. 18, 2017. Photo: Courtesy family

Ruth (Altamirano) Ahoy left us on Nov. 18, 2017. She was at home, in Berkeley, California, surrounded by her loving children, Gregorio, Deborah and Claudette Altamirano, and her devoted husband of 37 years, Christopher Keen Ahoy.

One of eight children, Ruth was born at home on the family farm in Entriken, Pennsylvania, and spent her formative years in nearby Pitcairn. After she graduated from high school, her older brother, Kenneth, and his wife, Alice, invited her to visit them in Berkeley, California. At age 17, Ruth took the train from Pennsylvania to California. Although she did keep abreast of the news from Pitcairn, and she always looked forward to receiving her school newspaper, the Tattler every quarter, she found an exciting new life in Berkeley and never looked back.

Ruth enrolled in UC Extension classes and attended UC Berkeley until she met and married fellow student, Claudio Altamirano, of Santiago, Chile. During the 17 years of her first marriage, Ruth raised three children and worked full-time as an administrative assistant at UC Berkeley. While working on campus, she became a witness to history and she enjoyed recounting her experiences: meeting Mario Savio during the Free Speech Movement, sitting within a few feet of President Kennedy during his 1962 Charter Day speech at Memorial Stadium, and describing the passionately charged campus atmosphere during the Civil Rights Movement.

During those years, she developed a lifelong commitment to fairness and social justice that she passed on to her children. She also became a champion for other young woman who were seeking employment and trying to gain a professional foothold at the university. Because of her ability to establish rapport with diverse groups of people, and her skills in diplomacy, Ruth was often sought out as a campus trouble-shooter, helping various departments navigate the murky waters of academic politics and quell departmental discord.

Ruth (Altamirano) Ahoy. Photo: Courtesy family

After more than a decade at the university, Ruth sought more flexibility in her life and became a realtor in Berkeley. Throughout her career in real estate, as both an agent and later a broker, she most enjoyed helping new buyers attain their dream of owning their first home.

In 1981, she began an exciting new phase in her life when she married Christopher Keen Ahoy, her lifelong best friend. They moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, where Chris had accepted a position at the University of Alaska as the systemwide Director of Facilities Planning and Construction. Despite the cold weather, the short winter days and the big mosquitos, Ruth loved Alaska, its people and the many friends she and Chris made there. Up until the last days of her life, she talked about wanting to return to Alaska to see all the places she felt she had missed.

After eight years in Alaska, Ruth and Chris returned to Berkeley where Ruth resumed her career in real estate. In 1994, she was elected President of the Berkeley Board of Realtors and she used her platform to focus on issues of homelessness and to advocate for affordable housing.

In 1997, she took a break from her real estate business and accompanied Chris on yet another adventure, this time to Iowa. While Chris got his footing as the new Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning and Management at Iowa State University, Ruth adapted to a new state and a new way of life. When they moved to a farmhouse in the middle of a vast Iowa cornfield, Ruth learned how to navigate her way home by using corn silos as landmarks.

Ruth always had an adventurous spirit and greatly enjoyed traveling the world with Chris, while he fulfilled his professional responsibilities. She made many new friends at their stops in Greece, Portugal, Mexico, Switzerland, France, Italy, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and South Africa.

She greatly enjoyed her adventures, but she always wanted to return to her cherished home in Berkeley, which she and Chris did in 2010, to enjoy their retirement years. Although she studied at UC Berkeley and the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, she regretted that she was never able to complete her degree. However, she supported her family members through their various undergraduate and graduate degrees, and edited all their dissertations and publications, so she earned many degrees by association.

Ruth loved her friends and family deeply and was deeply loved in return. She touched many people with her warm hugs, her unrelenting optimism, her ever-present smile, the lilt of her laugh and her generosity. She loved making people smile. She loved giving gifts. She loved entertaining, and there was always room for another guest at her table. Ruth was a sweet soul with a quick wit who would laugh until she cried. She will be deeply missed by all who knew and loved her.

Ruth is survived by her beloved husband and soul-mate, Chris, her three devoted children, her younger sister Dolores Cook (Max) of Pennsylvania, her older brother Kenneth Lynn of California, her grandson Andreas Altamirano of Greece, as well as numerous in-laws, nieces, nephews and grand step-daughters. There will be a celebration of her well-lived life in early January for close friends and family.