By Ardeth P. Anderson
Ruth Brown began volunteering for the Ban Chiang Project in 1992. In those days we were still putting new volunteers to work reconstructing pottery vessels from our large collection of broken pottery sherds on loan from the Thai government. Most of this work occurred from 1976 to the summer of 1990, but there was still plenty to do by 1992 and it was a great way to assess a volunteer’s skills or talents by simply getting to know them. I don’t think Ruth had much patience for pottery reconstruction, very few volunteers did.
During those early days working with Ruth, Joyce White, Director of the Ban Chiang Project, discovered that she was a retired librarian and archivist who had worked at several institutions in Philadelphia including Temple University’s Samuel L. Paley Library, the American Philosophical Society Library, the Biomedical Library at Penn, and most notably, the Academy of Natural Sciences. It was decided that her skills could be made very useful by implementing Joyce’s idea of creating a computerized database of references related to Southeast Asian archaeology and ethnography.
Over 5 years, Ruth painstakingly built the database by entering the first few thousand references. It was quite a frustrating task. Frequently Ruth would exclaim about the “whimsical” behavior of the desktop computer and the program, Citation, which in those early days had many kinks, shall we say. That core database has since been further developed and is now accessible online: Southeast Asian Archaeology Bibliographic Database. It is used world-wide and Southeast Asian archaeologists owe a debt of gratitude to her pioneering efforts that initiated this resource.
In 1997, Ruth moved to the Cathedral Village Retirement Community in Roxborough, and as a result, it became very difficult for her to make the commute to the Museum via public transportation. She had given up her car and her driver’s license many years before because she lived most of her life in the city. So Ruth reluctantly decided to end her time volunteering for the Ban Chiang Project. After Ruth’s departure, Joyce began hiring Penn work-study students who continued the often tedious work of entering references. Some of our wonderful database bibliographers over the years are as follows: Dana Katz , Sasha Renninger , Yanik Ruiz-Ramón , Connie Ko , Elena Nikolova , Jesse DuBois , Ryan Zahalka , and most recently Chloe Kaczvinsky [2013-2015]. We now have 15,000 references in the bibliography!
Ruth did keep in touch and was always a staunch supporter of Joyce and the Ban Chiang Project. She was one of the original “Friends of Ban Chiang” and became one of our most generous and steadfast donors over the two decades since she began volunteering for us. She also gave the lead donation to the Ban Chiang Endowment Fund established by Joyce White at the Penn Museum.
We were all saddened to hear that Ruth had passed away on February 14th, 2015 at the age of 94. She had become quite frail the last few years of her life and we had begun to hear from her less frequently, although many attempts were made to contact her. John Hastings, another long-term Ban Chiang volunteer and supporter, commented that during a recent phone call with Ruth, she was still “sharp as a tack” mentally.
But as it turns out, Ruth will continue her support of our Project well into the future, as Joyce was delighted to find out in March that Ruth had remembered Ban Chiang in her will with a bequest for $150,000. The funds recently became available and will be administered by the University of Pennsylvania Museum.
“In Ruth Brown’s case you [Joyce] gave her the satisfaction of knowing that even in her advanced years she was able to make an important contribution and was much appreciated for it. So it’s no surprise that you should be in her mind when she was writing her will.” –John Hastings, Chairman ISEAA Advisory Board
And, as with every donation Joyce has ever received, every penny will be carefully and thoughtfully used to further the work we do here, including the Bibliographic Database and publication of the Ban Chiang Monographs.
Ruth’s Philadelphia Inquirer obituary.