University of Rochester

Ruth Fairbank, Alumna and Friend of the University, Dies

January 17, 2006

Ruth Harmon Fairbank, whose name and that of her late husband, Dr. Matthew E. Fairbank, has been long associated with the University of Rochester, will be remembered at a memorial service on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Third Presbyterian Church in Rochester. Mrs. Fairbank, who was 98, died on Jan. 7.

She and Dr. Fairbank were alumni of the University and supported the institution throughout their lives. They served on many committees and boards, and participated in and led volunteer programs and activities. In particular, Mrs. Fairbank was involved in fund-raising campaigns, and was a member of the board of the alumni association of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering from 1963 to 1965.

"The University of Rochester has lost a great friend," said President Joel Seligman of Mrs. Fairbank.

She graduated from the College with a bachelor of arts degree in 1931. Dr. Fairbank received his bachelor of arts degree from the College in 1930, and his medical degree from the School of Medicine and Dentistry in 1935. He was a University Trustee from 1963 to 1969, an honorary trustee from 1969 to 1985, and continued as a life trustee from 1985 to 1989, the year he died.

In 1980, the alumni center on the River Campus was named the Matthew E. and Ruth Harmon Fairbank Alumni Center in their honor. The next year, the Dr. Matthew E. Fairbank Medical School Lectureship was established. Then in 1987, the couple began an alumni lecture series at the College on themes related to literacy, writing, and thinking. The current Fairbank Alumni House, located at McLean Street and Mt. Hope Avenue, carries their name.

Mrs. Fairbank, who grew up in the 19th Ward, worked as a librarian in the Rochester public library system from 1931 to 1935. The couple married in 1934, and when Dr. Fairbank started his family practice, she became his office manager and receptionist. From 1938 to 1952, they worked together in that office in Greece. "She also would go with Grandpa on house calls," said granddaughter Katherine Pourshariati. "They were a team. They backed each other up completely."

Mrs. Fairbank was a longtime member of the Century Club, and was an active supporter of the Women's Educational Industrial Union, which was founded in Rochester in 1917. Proceeds from WEIU's thrift store on North Street went to college scholarships for young women. "She felt very lucky to have been able to go to college, and she wanted to encourage that for women," said Pourshariati.

At the time of her death, Mrs. Fairbank was living in Valley Manor Apartments. For many years, she and her husband resided in Honeoye Falls.

The couple's daughter, Nancy Fairbank Renner, died in 1982. Mrs. Fairbank is survived by her grandchildren, Matthew M. Renner of Santa Rosa, Calif., Katherine R. Pourshariati of Philadelphia, Pa., and Martha R. Shultz of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada; great-grandchildren Minou Nancy Pourshariati and Marin Schultz, and cousins.

A memorial service will be held at 2:30 p.m. in the chapel at Third Presbyterian Church, 4 Meigs St. Contributions can be made to the American Friends Service Committee, AFSC Development, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, Pa., 19102, or to a charity of the donor's choice.