Deceased October 26, 2008
John Ruppe’s steady elegance and love of beauty stood out in the student crowd at Amherst in the early ’60s. In those days, English majors were cool, and John, along with his friend Mark Gibbons ’64 and some others—a year or two ahead of me—embodied a kind of ironic aestheticism I much admired. My wife-to-be, Antoinette Mendlow (Smith ’67), and I enjoyed some memorable excursions with John to his family cabin in Vermont, where we wondered what was and wasn’t “camp” and pondered the beauty of decaying farmhouses and the warmth of woodstoves.
But that was youth and college, and we went our separate ways. John went to Rutgers to study English, got his Ph.D. and went west to his first job at the Univ. of Wyoming. We visited him for a couple of raw days in the bleak moonscape that is high prairie Laramie, where the wind never seemed to stop blowing. John’s natural reserve may not have translated well among his western colleagues and students, and he felt the isolation. After not getting tenure, he moved to San Francisco to work as a carpenter for his brother. John demonstrated the Eagle Scout in him; he did not complain or express bitterness at what many took to be a fallen state but instead put his practical determination to work.
When my wife and I purchased a run-down farmhouse in upstate New York, we asked John to come and live with us for a few months while we renovated and enlarged the place. I was in effect apprenticed to John as a carpenter, and it was, thanks to him, a liberating experience for me. John was a rare example of someone able to seamlessly combine love of literature and art with a love of practical manual labor. John found someone appreciative of his qualities in his second wife, Jane, and he took great joy in their marriage and in his three stepdaughters. They eventually settled in Virginia, and we saw them occasionally in recent years.
John worked for SI International. I was never clear about what it was all about, but here’s how he described it in a 2006 e-mail, offering a typical piece of Ruppe third-person commentary: “In September, SI International was named one of ‘ten hot companies to watch’ by Federal Computer Week . . . We are growing and thriving, riding government spending on homeland security technology. John inhabits a very small, very low box on the org chart, about six layers down from the numerous VPs. He is a ‘shared resource’ in the Capture and Proposal Operations unit (CAPO), the head of which he has never met (but would like to). His immediate supervisors are good guys, whom he’s met a few times; he feels he is engaged in useful and critical projects for the company; the work is suited to his temperament. After such precision, he likes to go home and chop wood or visit his trail to remove blowdowns, drop rocks to improve the stream crossings, or cut back vegetation.”
John lost his job the day he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Rather than decline into severe disability, he heroically chose to take his own life. We will miss a good man.
Jane Ruppe adds this: “He ultimately took control of his end, which required tremendous courage and selflessness. He could not endure the prospect of confinement to a wheelchair and utter dependence on others. He did not want to deprive others of their independence because of his dependence on them . . . It gave him such joy to be in touch with old friends and classmates. He was such a loyal friend.”
Adrian Kuzminski ’66