Committed to helping others: Ruth Whitney, a connected woman

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By Peg Lopata, Contributing Writer

Ruth Whitney
Photo/submitted

Cambridge – Ruth Whitney, 75, is a native of New York state. She came to Cambridge the summer before her senior year in college and this city has been her home for decades.  “Although it can be frustrating at times to live in a city where everyone has an opinion about everything, I love the diversity, the energy and the social and civic commitment,” said Whitney.

Civic involvement is a strong part of Whitney’s life.  It was an expectation in her family.

“My parents were both deeply involved in the community,” she noted. “Their message was that it was an obligation, a privilege, and a pleasure to give back.”  

Whitney started volunteering when she was in high school.  Her dedication to giving has continued throughout her life. 

Whitney worked as a caseworker and supervisor at Massachusetts General Hospital, started a social work and mental health department for the Cambridge Visiting Nurse Association, evaluated custody and visitation cases; directed the training program for social workers, psychologist and child psychiatry fellows for the Middlesex Family and Probate Court.  She was also on the faculty of the Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Program and Massachusetts  Continuing Legal Education.  

She is currently on the Institutional Review Board of Mt. Auburn Hospital, in Cambridge and a trustee of her condo association. She also volunteers as a chair of the board with Cambridge Family and Children’s Services. 

“We focus on providing permanency for every client, so that they’ll each have an ongoing relationship with at least one adult going forward towards their own adulthood,” explained Whitney. “The staff and board are terrific to work with and I really enjoy the friendships there.”

As a child, Whitney had many adults worth emulating. She’s the daughter of two college professors, her mother being the first woman to ever teach at Union College in Schenectady, New York, Whitney’s hometown.  Her grandmother and several great aunts attended Mt. Holyoke College, in Holyoke, Mass., in the early 1900s, a time when women rarely went to college.  Surrounded by these remarkable college-educated women, Whitney was very eager to go to college herself.  She most likely holds the record for the youngest applicant to Mt. Holyoke – she started her application process when she was in eighth grade. Once actually a student there, she majored in history, graduating in 1966.  In 1969 she obtained her master’s degree in social work from Simmons College in Boston. At the conclusion of her career, including a private practice for 27 years, Whitney received the Simmons School of Social Work’s Distinguished Lifetime Career Award for her services to the family court and divorcing families.  

Whitney retired gradually in 2015.

“I love being retired,” said Whitney.  “I have had no trouble finding ways to stay entertained, connected, and involved.  In fact, sometimes I have difficulty in scheduling something I promised myself: a day each week when I can stay in my bathrobe and slippers all day long.”   An avid reader, she’s a member of three book groups, attends theater, and plays bridge.  She also enjoys the company of her two cats. 

“Their independence and quirky personalities are very appealing to me.  When you become an object of their affection, you know you’ve earned it!” said Whitney. 

She is also very devoted to her family members. 

“I am very close to my siblings and their families.  We do a lot of things together.  I grew up in a big cadre of cousins on both sides and we’re still very connected,” said Whitney.  

Though Whitney has accomplished much as a professional, she’s also proud of her many long-term friendships, including those made at Mt. Holyoke College, a place that is an important part of her life to this day.  She has never missed a reunion and each spring she travels to London with her first-year roommate.  

“The playwright Wendy Wasserstein said that ‘you could judge the quality of a woman by the duration of her friendships.’  I hope that’s true,” she said.