Ruth Speer died December 11 at the age of 90. While primarily known to fandom through her spouse of 57 years, Jack, who died in 2008, she led a remarkable life in her own right.
Born in Nova Scotia, she grew up in Vermont and Maine. She served with the WAVES in World War II. A certified pilot who flew cargo planes, she assisted in searching for lost aircraft and become one of the first female air traffic controllers.
Her son, Ed, and daughter, Margaret Ann, both spoke at her funeral. Ed’s remarks offer a little window into his fannish upbringing —
Both my parents were gracious enough not to try to discourage me from doing things I really wanted to do. I’m sure Mom would have been much happier if I’d taken up tennis instead of medieval sword fighting, but she sewed my costume and helped me find a source of obsolete road signs for building my armor.
In addition to her son and daughter, Ruth is survived by her brother, Robert, and four grandchildren.
Patricia Rogers gave Andrew Porter an update on Ruth Speer, and the preservation of the late Jack Speer’s science fiction stuff:
Ruth Speer is doing well. She has moved into a lovely apartment in an adult living complex. Her room is decorated with several SF paintings and lots of photos of Jack. I took her to Bubonicon (our local SF con) last year and spent time with her on both her birthday and Christmas eve. The Speer home is up for sale and the family has had many garage sales to finish clearing everything out. Last March I packed up the last of 60 large legal size boxes of Jack’s SF papers and sent them out to ENMU (Eastern New Mexico University, home of the Jack Williamson Special SF Collection). It was good timing as they had just expanded the space for the Special Collections and had room to take it all. Even included several mimeograph machines and typewriters.
Patricia will be going out in April for the Williamson Lectureship and may have more news then.
[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story, and Patricia Rogers’ permission to run it.]
Patricia Rogers has been writing some wonderful posts about helping Ruth Speer sort through Jack’s fan stuff. Patricia sent me the newest installment on July 22, and I’m finally catching up. She’s attending the San Diego Comic-Con as I write. Here is her third installment of Adventures in Speerology:
Jack Speer was a very lucky man. I am just home from spending another wonderful afternoon with the charming Ruth. Now here is a woman who just lost her life companion, best friend, and beloved husband of 57 years. Yet even in her time of grieving she is the perfect hostess: full of life, quick to laugh, and exuding the very essence of joie de vivre. A pearl of great price.
We laughed so often in the 3½ hours I was there that even though I am exhausted from running a zillion errands today, Ruth’s laughter has energized me… Shouldn’t I be giving her my energy? Well, maybe it is mutual.
I told her of all your good wishes and comments on what I have written describing our forays into Jack’s ziggurat. I also gave her hard copies of Speerology 1 & 2 to read. Now I am the anxious student waiting to find out if I will get a passing grade on my term paper. I gave her veto power on anything I have written before it is committed to paper and asked her to please let me know if I have gotten anything – I used the word “wrong,” her more ladylike take was “interpreted incorrectly.”
Let me jump back to last night. While washing, packing, cleaning, and doing a myriad of other chores that needed doing in my home before I leave for San Diego early Wednesday, I would occasionally take a few moments out and sift though Jack’s 1938 envelope of photos. Some of these photos are very small – postage-stamp size. Ruth says that Jack enjoyed developing and printing them himself, which explains why there are multiple copies of some photos. The pictures are so small that after a while I found myself wandering back to my library/office in search of a loupe so I might better make out what was in them. One tiny landscape needed no magnifying glass to identify, though it did take my brain a moment to register what I was seeing; with a childlike smile I realized that here was a teensy-tinesy Munchkin-sized photo of the EmeraldCity. Dorothy and friends have just turned the last corner on the Yellow Brick Road and a breathtaking EmeraldCity looms before them. The first thing I thought was: “Oh look – Jack took a photo of The Wizard of Oz on the TV. All the problems with this statement quickly occurred to me and just as fast I remembered that the movie came out in 1939 and he must have been seeing it in a theater during its opening run. So I pictured our 19-year-old Jack seeing The Wizard of Oz for the first time and being so in awe of the futuristic design of the EmeraldCity that right then and there in the dark theater he pulled out his camera and took a photo of the screen. You can even see the outline of other moviegoers’ heads in the foreground. I feel like I know and like him all the better now because of this postage stamp image.
Another image also looked familiar, but took me a few more moments of thought to figure out with its strange spires, angles and shadows. Finally it hit me: here was a photo from a World of Tomorrow, the General Motors “Futurama” ride from the 1939 World’s Fair – Jack must have snapped the photo from the chair moving past the models. WOW! So now we have a photo from the time and place of the World Con in 1939! There must be more! There are some photos of individuals standing on what appears to be New York City street corners. Also, there are shots of lots of young men surrounded by paper and books. Maybe just maybe we are on the right track. Really, I will scan these for you when I get back… I promise. There will be prizes for anyone that can identify anybody in the photos… But remember these images are so very small!
I kidded with Ruth that here we have Jack taking photos of everything from The Wizard of Oz to the World’s Fair – surely there have to be World Con photos!!!! Unless Jack filed them separately… Always a possibility.
Speaking of filing: Ruth and I chatted for a long time and I mentioned Curt’s idea of taking documentary photos so we headed off to Jack’s office. I got down at the level of his chair and started snapping pictures of Jack’s office as he would have seen it every day. Ruth laughed and said “Wait, he would not have this (mundane) business paper out,” and we quickly got out his last mailing of Synapse. (Which by-the-way, Robert – Jack had opened and made a file for but had not started to work on yet. Ruth says he never worked on anything until the last possible moment.) I also started taking documentary photos of the myriad of filing cabinets.
After taking several dozen photos we headed to the garage and on the way I grabbed a few shots of the front hall and living room which are, in the words of my mother, “Company Ready.” Not a SF zine in sight. Oh, and I did ask Ruth to pose for a photo. She said, “But I’m not a Science Fiction Fan.” I came right back and said, “But you are a fan of Jack’s!” She laughed and with a soft smile said I had her there and she sat down for the camera.
Once we got to the garage I went right over to the wonderful pulp magazine area and I started opening a few envelopes to place the pulps out for aesthetic picture purposes. Of course the ones I picked up were completely different than those I had seen the other day. All I wanted to do was stop right then and there and open each and every one! But with great determination and strength of will I wrenched myself free after talking only a few photos.
Ruth and I went over to a wall of small file drawers (index card size). We started opening them to peruse the treasures inside – then the laughing started in earnest! Look, this drawer is full of old wallets, and this one is filled with old broken belts, broken eyeglasses in another… Have I mentioned that Jack never threw anything away? I liked the one full of SF pins, badges and name tags. There is more – like the one full of plastic coffee cups from the late 1960s, but also in there was what I am sure is a Bakelite red and black marbled holder that once held shaving cream circa 1910-1930. So like every good dig, there may be a mountain of oyster shells in your midden, but if you keep looking you may just find a perfect spear point.
We took lots and lots of photos amidst our laughter. I said I had better get some shots of the attic and Ruth asked for the camera so she could take photos of me on the way up. I started to climb and Ruth, standing below me with camera in hand, kept saying – “Just go up one more rung, OK, one more, well, maybe one more so they see your head going up into the dark.” I envisioned the classic Grand Canyon scenario: “No, really, Honey – just step back one more step.” I took some photos in the attic too and of the garage from that angle.
We dug around for a while longer in drawer after drawer of bill statements that had been paid 25 years past and ancient Christmas holiday giveaways in a festive card – small plastic devices that you could press into you checks like a notary seal that would protect your writing from fraud. There were a bunch of these from some fifty years back. I said to Ruth – “Well, now you are all set for next Christmas.”
To escape the heat of the garage we took a cool respite in the lovely green backyard which is complete with fountain and recently-added gazebo. Camera in hand I headed over to the shed to document the plethora of boxes housed there and some of the oh-so-water-damaged files.
Finally we went back into the living room and had another long chat and made a date for next Tuesday July 29 when I am back from Comic Con.
Ruth said during our afternoon conversations that – “Jack tied to squeeze every last bit out of life.” Not a bad thing to emulate… I am sure going to try to do the same.
Patricia Rogers reports her latest foray into the collections of Jack Speer:
Wow – Y’all are going to get tired of me using the word “Amazing” while I sift through Jack Speer’s life in collecting, but if you were with me you too would find that “Amazing” really is the word that keeps coming to mind. I am glad I have y’all to share these stories with because I am busting to talk about it when I get home and I don’t want to forget even the smallest detail.
I didn’t get over to the Speer home today until close to It is monsoon season here and around the skies opened up with a heavy deluge of rain and hail, all accompanied by a spectacular show of lightning. The storm had just let up when I arrived at Jack and Ruth’s but the street in front of their house was still channeling a deep stream of rushing water. Ruth met me at the door and commented how their front porch rarely got wet yet here it is covered with several large pools.
The storm had cooled the afternoon so we headed right out to the garage to check out Roy Tackett’s papers. But… On the way to the back of the garage we were grabbed by a large tentacled arm and pulled over to a shelf of Pulps. Now I know a lot of you have collected early SF pulps for many a year. I have long read the authors in them but not collected the pulps themselves. Not even handled many of them as most of the Pulp Cons are in areas of the country that I have never lived near and rarely visited. So here Ruth and I are standing in a dusty corner of a dimly lit garage and one by one Ruth would take an envelope off the shelf, open it, pull out a rare gem cut like a magazine, read the title and date for me, then gently handed me the pulp to look at. Here are a few of the titles she recited to me… Amazing Stories – August 1928; Wonder Stories Quarterly – Winter 1932; Science Wonder Quarterly – Fall 1929; Amazing Stories – October 1927; Wonder Stories – March 1933; Science Fiction Plus – run of all of 1953; Wonder Stories Quarterly – Fall 1931; Amazing Stories – October 1930; Vargo Statten – January 1954; Amazing Stories – April 1926 and September 1926; Amazing Stories – May 1932; Terry and the Pirates comics 1950’s; Science Fiction – October 1939; Fantastic Novels – March 1948; Fantastic Adventures – September 1952. Also, in an old cigar box there were lots of Buck Rogers comic strips clipped from their original newspapers.
Sure – I have seen pulp art in collections of SF art and on-line and I love the images but there is something magically different about seeing them on the original magazines. Maybe it is the old printing techniques, maybe the size of the image, maybe just the wonderful quality of the art itself but I was completely mesmerized. I could have looked at them for hours and wanted to study each painting to see every nuance like on the cover of Science Fiction Quarterly – Fall 1929… Wow – These guys in the plump space suits are tethered to an incredibly cool rocket but the rocket is obviously moving because it has a full thrust flame…. etc…etc. So now I get IT – why y’all collect these fragile old magazines. As of this afternoon in Jack Speer’s garage, I truly understand.
The issues I mention here are all in surprisingly good shape, some even in excellent tight clean condition. Others on the shelf had lost covers or been though a flood. But – and you need to remember this – Jack never threw anything away. Ruth said she would occasionally try to throw something away like an old broken lawnmower but Jack would get home just in time to stop this silliness and would lug the lawnmower up to the attic and out of harm’s way. I was up in the attic this evening and just the thought of getting a lawnmower up there fills me with respect for Jack’s determination.
While we were enjoying the pulps Ruth shared more gold nugget stories about Jack. When looking at one sadly water damaged magazine she said, “This must have been in one of the Oklahoma floods.” I said, “There were more floods?” Ruth: “Yes, when Jack was growing up his father did not approve of him reading SF so Jack hid his pulps in the barn and there were occasional floods. The funny thing is that it was Jack’s father who introduced Jack to Science Fiction. He felt to be well-rounded you needed to read and learn something about everything. The trouble was that Jack was really struck from the start by Science Fiction and his father only wanted him to sample it for educational purposes.” Jack father was a lifetime military man and Ruth said Jack respected and adored him. His father’s love of knowledge and learning was forever a part of Jack’s life too. Ruth said Jack loved being a boy scout while growing up and loved learning about nature. He also loved digging in the creek – something his father also preferred Jack not do but that did not deter the young Jack from his creek explorations.
Jack’s love of learning kept him going to every science talk he could get too his whole life, right up to the end. He always wanted to learn something new and even when they traveled Jack never wanted to take the same path twice. He wanted to find new ways to get there so he might have a new learning experience along the way.
One more note on floods. When the great basement floods happened (mentioned in the first chapter) Ruth said “You should have seen the backyard.” Jack filled every inch of their back yard with wet fanzines and pulps to try and sun dry them. He would even walk up and down turning the pages of individual magazines to try and help them dry out. Poor guy – I know how I would feel if my prized books were in a flood. Looking through some of the water-damaged fanzines today I noted that mimeograph ink just turns into illegible lines with dark blue halos when drenched.
Remember Roy Tackett’s stuff? We had started out to look at that – well, not quite there yet, next a detour up to the attic. While looking at the pulps I noticed a skinny metal ladder extending up into a dark opening in the ceiling. Who can pass up the allure of that! I asked Ruth if I could climb up and she smiled and said, “Sure – Just be careful.” So up I went. First I plugged in an elaborate set of power cords to hopefully bring a little light to the darkness above. Hey, I’ve read a lot of H.P. Lovecraft – I know what waits in dark attics.
From what Ruth had said about all the stuff Jack had been depositing up there I expected a large finished attic with a floor. Wrong. There are open beams to be tightrope- walked/crawled on with the always-present threat of falling one way or another through the ceiling into the garage below. A few loose boards and old table tops have been placed between some of the beams to help as wobbly stepping stones. Now you think all this would slow me down. Wrong again. My degree is in Anthropology and I did lots of Archeology field work in college. There is nothing I love more than exploring dangerous difficult places while looking for hidden treasure. And from the looks of it this attic fits all those criteria. Even with the couple of power cords only one flashlight-sized bulb worked and I tugged at the cord to try and get the light to reveal the far corners of the attic. There were boxes here and there, hubcaps, an old leather 1940’s briefcase and then a later 1970’s hard-sided one close by. Way in the back were large bicycle wire rims more like something from a bike in the 1920’s. About 8 feet away from me was a small bookcase with what looked like Fantasy Press size books on it but I just could not see well enough to tell. OK – I have to climb over there… slowly. Sigh. They were just 1970’s SF paperbacks which had vinyl covers to disguise their true appearance. At the other end of the attic was a box that looked to be full of art but I just could not see what was in it from my distance. I tried to figure out a way to get over there but decided it was going to have to wait for another day with better clothing and more preparation. I did not even open any of the boxes so there are still lots of mysteries to be explored up there.
OK, Really – now to look at Roy‘s stuff. There are 4 or 5 stacks of file cabinet boxes and each stack is over 6 feet high, all full of fanzines. We just glanced at them but everything seemed to be in good shape and well organized. I will move those out of the garage soon and look though them more thoroughly.
Ruth and I headed into the kitchen and noted the time to be almost and Ruth said she was going to make us some dinner. She suggested since it was nice and cool that I check out the outbuilding in the backyard again and maybe I could find some of the papers she is looking for. Ruth and her children have been working very hard the last few weeks to find all the legal papers they need for the estate but as she has smiled and said to me on several occasions, “All we keep finding is Science Fiction papers.”
In a serious talk I asked Ruth if she or her children or grandchildren wanted to keep any of the fanzines or fandom papers? Ruth smiled and said no, that her children have come to the point that they have enough stuff in their lives and didn’t need to collect anymore. Hummm… Have enough stuff??? “Don’t need to collect any more???” I wonder if I will ever grasp this concept. No. Probably not.
In the early evening light I headed out to the shed. Inside there are many boxes neatly lined up, with pathways through them. I checked out a number of drawers and found lots of old video tapes, some games and toys, and lots of fanzines – even some in the boxes marked FAPA. Then I started looking though a box that was marked TBF (To Be Filed, I assume). Not very far in I saw a carbon copy of a letter written by Jack on July 28, 1983. It caught my eye right way because in the first line it mentions The Futurians, Harry Warner’s books and the Immortal Storm but it was the last paragraph that really blew me away. Of all the thousands of letters everywhere around me that I should find this one…Well, maybe Jack is still directing things.
Toward the end of the letter Jack is talking about the task of dealing with the life, works, and possessions of his parents’ estate. Jack wrote: “…discarding much, sorting some into categories particular to one of them, their ancestors… …and keeping some papers and things for such use as I can make of them… But it is melancholy how much meaning has been lost.”
And the last paragraph in this letter Jack wrote:
“Perhaps because I expect to live forever, I haven’t felt your quiet panic to rush things onto stencil, but I do feel bad about projects languishing, such as my promised printing of the balance of Swisher’s time-travel thesis, and the decimal index of old prozine stories. I think it was May Wollstonecraft Godwin’s husband, who died at thirty, who wrote “When I have fears that I shall cease to be Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain…” (He didn’t reach a very profound conclusion.) I suppose it’s better to die before than to keep writing after one has run out of ideas.
“Fen may come and fen may go, but stf goes on forever. Jack”
Patricia Rogers is helping to sift the late Jack Speer’s fanzines, papers, and old photos. It’s such an incredible experience she’s been writing a lot about it online — thanks to Pat for allowing me to quote her here:
If y’all don’t mind I will share with you my adventures in helping Ruth sort though Jack Speer’s papers. Maybe I should be writing this up as a continuing saga for a print fanzine, as this process is going to take awhile. In my heart I think every day I spend with Ruth, and going though Jack’s papers on my own, will bring amazing discoveries. Today was packed full of them and all in the space of about 3 hours.
I had told Ruth I would drop by around , and out of respect for Jack’s noted punctuality I arrived at on the nose. Ruth had 3 boxes of papers waiting for me in the living room. In the first box there were half a dozen envelopes of photos labeled with dates ranging from 1938 to 1951. The first one we opened was chock-full of treasures, wonderful photos of Jack and several that looked to me like folks at SF meetings. I stared at them thinking: Is that Ed Hamilton? – Is that Henry Kuttner? (And, YES! I am going to scan them for y’all to see.) The next envelope contained photos from Jack’s years in Algeria, the envelope was dated 1945. The small black-and-white photos transported me to Rick’s Cafe and had all the energy of a street bazaar. Photos of camel caravans, narrow streets with a Moroccan feel, marketplace scenes, Bedouin traders having afternoon tea, ancient ruins crumbling into the desert sand, and a few lovely ladies – one even in a belly-dancing costume. I was completely enchanted. Every envelope held treasures, both for Jack’s family and for SF Fandom. Ruth told me stories and we laughed a lot; it was lovely. We especially had fun trying to figure out who all the shapely young ladies were in the photos, and one in particular who was in many of the photos. (These photos were taken long before Ruth met Jack!)
The next box was full of fanzines – no suprise there. But wait…there was a surprise: they were all addressed to Roy Tackett! Several of us in the SF club here had wondered what happened to Roy‘s fanzines. We thought maybe some of his collection went to the Williamson Collection at ENMU in Portales but no one was sure. Ruth said to me, “Jack was the executor of Roy Tackett’s estate.” “Oh My!” I thought as my brain reeled. “Is it possible that Roy Tackett’s fanzine collection is here too?” Certainly the bag after bag of fanzines that had been mailed toRoy make that a real possibility.
Next we went into Jack’s office. There was a five-foot-tall stack of large boxes, each in the shape of a filing cabinet drawer. Written in pencil on each one was my name: “Pat.” Ruth said Jack had started writing my name on boxes of SF papers he wanted to make sure I found. That was the only moment of the afternoon that really had me close to tears. I had no idea he had been doing that and it made me think, “Wow – he really did trust me to do the right thing.” I have to work very hard not to let him down.
Ruth took me to an outbuilding and in the afternoon heat we unlocked and slid the doors open to reveal (in the words of Howard Carter) “Wonderful Things,” and many more boxes. Some were labeled FAPA, but Ruth said that is not necessarily what is in them now. I had already seen all the boxes in the garage but have not been up to the attic yet, where Ed (Jack’s son) tells me there are even more boxes. We have our work cut out for us, but for me it is a labor of love to make sure Jack’s papers are preserved and stay together for future Science Fiction fans to study and enjoy.
Ruth did tell me about the two Great Floods. When they were living in WashingtonState around 1950-1960 the basement of their home flooded on two occasions. Ruth said Jack did not throw a thing away but as I picked up a file folder of papers that had been glued together with ancient mold I flashed on how the first researcher of the Dead Sea Scrolls must have felt… Just how are we going to unscramble this?
Ruth and I talked photos some more and she told me about some she knew they had of Jack Williamson sitting under their apple tree in the backyard of their first home in Albuquerque. I’ll let you know when we find those. We also went into the closet and looked for Jack’s beanie hat. We did find one but not the one we were looking for.
Finally I loaded 4 boxes of stuff into the car and headed home. Ruth said it would help her if I would take the boxes home and store them as she goes through stuff, so she has work space. That is fine… I will just make my guest room into SpeerStorageLand until we get stuff packed up and out to the library.
Halfway home I got waylaid by a traffic jam caused by an accident. I-25 became a parking lot and we all just sat in our cars for close to an hour. I thought, “Gee – what shall I read?” I reached over my shoulder into the backseat and like the “Claw” of a carnival game machine grabbed what was on top and brought it up to see what prize I had won.
In the inch of papers I picked up was –
CORFLU progress report #1 1993
Trans Altantic Fan Fund newsletter 1992 The Space Collectors Catalog Scientifiction First Fandom Report Fall 2001 and Winter 2002 ASFACTSNM newsletter May 1993
Notes for Bob Peterson #49 March 1993
First Fandom Membership Roster 2002 DUFF Corroboree #4 Feburary 1993 WABE #1 and #5 File 770 #53
Minutes of 1984 WSFS Business Meeting
Terry Hughes eulogy Science Fiction FiveYearly Nov 2001
I started reading the Science Fiction FiveYearly and found an article by Greg Benford entitled “How to Write a Scientific Paper”. At one point, I was laughing so hard I wondered if my fellow waylaid travelers were worried about the crazy lady in the car beside them, laughing hysterically. That didn’t slow me down… I just kept reading and laughing.
I can see that sorting Jack’s papers is going to be a wonderful learning experience for me. I’m just sorry he is gone and I can’t share my joy with him.
P.S. – Every zine had pencil corrections by Jack of punctuation and spelling errors. It made me smile every time I saw one.
P.P.S. Well, I did not think I would be posting anything again so soon but Ruth just called and in just a few minutes of listening to her on phone the “Wow” factor to our adventure just got a lot larger! I have a feeling we are in for an amazing ride.
Ruth said – “Do you know who Melvin L. Merritt is? I plead ignorance – do y’all know the name? It seems Jack was given Melvin’s collection of Pulps! Ruth just pulled the top one out of the box and it was Amazing Stories October 1930!! Wow – our adventure is really just beginning.
Think that was exciting enough first thing in the morning? But wait – there is more. Ruth said she thinks now that half the stuff in the garage belonged to Roy Tackett. I guess that answers any lingering doubts I had last night that about where Roy‘s stuff landed.
I am heading over to the Speer home later today….this story will be continued!