Professor Emerita Ruth Barton, the guiding force in the early years of the Writing Center, the journalism program, Cutler Publications, and a host of other writing-related endeavors at Colorado College, died Friday, Nov. 23. She was 78.
Barton, known for her love of poetry and her dedication to students, first began teaching at CC in 1964 as a lecturer in English. Faculty and students alike recall her kindness and fearlessness as she navigated turbulent decades of change at the college.
Former students remember a generous teacher who took them seriously.
“She was the first person who ever told me I could be a writer,” said Michael Nava ‘76, a Stanford-educated lawyer whose books include a series of well-regarded detective novels featuring Henry Rios, a gay criminal defense lawyer. “She gave me permission to go about fulfilling that ambition.”
Nava’s first class at CC was a two-block creative writing course with Barton. “She was a monumentally important person to me,” Nava said. “She not only encouraged my writing, but also understood my position at the school, as a poor scholarship boy in a school that was basically middle and upper-class.”
A specialist in late 19th and early 20th century poetry, Barton wrote her dissertation on W.B. Yeats at the University of Wisconsin. It was in a class on the romantic poets that Molly Gross ’96, now associate director of the Writing Center, felt emboldened as a writer.
“She encouraged risk-taking, a creative approach to writing,” Gross said. “But she was rigorous, too. She was really good at guiding, ushering you along the way, even if neither of us knew where you were going.”
Early on, Barton lobbied for a college-wide writing program, which began in the mid-70s when a professor was freed for a block to help students. By 1979, the faculty approved an all-college writing program, including what became the Writing Center, “to help all students write more clearly, cogently, and gracefully by offering a wide variety of writing opportunities,” Barton wrote in 1988. She recruited faculty by holding monthly lunches to discuss teaching writing. In the early days, she invited new faculty to retreats at the Baca to discuss teaching writing. Her husband, the late Tom K. Barton, professor emeritus of history, shared her conviction that writing is central to learning.
“The Writing Center was her baby,” said English Professor Barry Sarchett, who came to the college in 1981, at first to teach half time and work in the newly established writing program. He recalled Barton’s “seductive Texas drawl” when she aimed to persuade.
“She was larger than life,” Sarchett said. “We all missed her when she was retired, and now we’ll miss her even more.”
The Writing Center will be renamed in her honor in a ceremony on Friday, Dec. 7, at noon, in the Learning Commons, Tutt Library 166.
A memorial service will be held in Shove Chapel at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8, with a reception afterward in Gates Common Room.