Ruth Rozumoff Edelman was born in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1929. She was the daughter of a rising local lawyer named Bill Rozumoff and Sonia Gasul Rozumoff, both first generation immigrants from Russia. When she was 5, Ruth lost her father, and her mother was left to raise two children, both under the age of 7. Ruth recalled stocking linens at her uncle’s store when she was 8. She remembered being hungry and lonely.
She made good enough marks to get into University of Wisconsin in Madison. But her primary goal was not academic; she had dates with 100 different guys her freshman year. When asked how she did it, she said, “I had Coke dates. I had dinner dates. I had breakfast dates. I had football game dates. I even had study dates.”
Ruth got herself at Marshall Fields in Chicago, beginning a 63-year journey in this city. She was shortly thereafter fixed up with my father, Dan, an ambitious World War II veteran who had just quit the Toni Company to set up his own business. Dan took her for a drive on the first date, then parked the car. She was afraid of the inevitable big move but he just talked, she was smitten. On their next date he asked whether she would like to drive his new Plymouth. Ruth said yes and took off on Lake Shore Drive, bobbing and weaving through traffic. Dan grabbed the wheel and steered the car to safety. “Are you drunk?” he asked. “No,” she said. “I’ve just never driven before.” For Ruth, there was no reason to be afraid, ever. She closed the deal with Dan by going away to Florida, writing him letters every day on imaginary events that had her busy from dawn to dusk, then showing up tanned and slim, irresistible.
The new couple produced three children in four years. Ruth set high standards for her progeny. Nothing less than an A was acceptable; her children were going to go to Ivy League colleges or bust. For every shortcoming there was a remedy. I had a speech coach who improved my diction, an academic tutor who helped to raise my scores for the prep school and college admissions exams, a weight-lifting instructor who was to strengthen my puny frame. We even had a visit over dinner from Miss Manners, who had worked with the Nixon girls at the White House. The three kids did everything from picking up French fries with our fingers to pushing peas with our knife. The verdict after the meal: your children have excellent manners and you run a superb home. Ruth turned beet red and accused us of paying off Miss Manners. It was a rare setback for a perfectionist.
Ruth’s devotion to her children knew no boundaries, and that sometimes led to rather unique situations. When I was applying to Harvard, she placed a call to popular advice columnist and friend Ann Landers asking her to speak to the Dean of Admissions about me. When the Dean visited Phillips Exeter Academy that year I was the first student he met with. He proceeded to ask: “is your application really so weak that you had a famous advice columnist write to me on your behalf.” I simply told him: “You don’t know my mother.” Fortunately, it all worked out in the end.
We had to live with her KITA philosophy of Kick in the Ass, which meant praise for achievement and pushing of the underperforming. Imagine Ruth rousting this then 17-year-old out of to supervise daily circuit training for football. She had a stopwatch and a glare. I was convinced she watched Vince Lombardi films for fun. But, there was also a soft side. When I married my hard working professional wife, my mom would send me home from trips to Chicago with frozen cooked lamb chops so that I would not starve. We had lamb so often that our housekeeper asked me whether it was a Jewish religious food.
Dan and Ruth were social dynamos in Chicago. She had unbelievable stamina, ambition and creativity. The annual Edelman Press party at our apartment on Astor Street was a booze-fueled extravaganza for the entire Chicago press corps, with 300 attendees. Dinners were dazzling, including an annual bash for the Ebony Fashion Fair and her good friend Eunice Johnson. To watch Ruth operating on the phone in the morning was magical, being updated on all of the events around town by her myriad of friends, offering advice on relationships or business. She was Facebook before it existed.
And of course, there was the company. She was Dan’s confidante and counselor, the éminence grise operating behind the scenes. She was an incredibly effective networker, sidling up to a powerful figure, establishing a connection, beckoning her husband over. Ruth went with Dan to KFC franchisee meetings, on three week trips to Asia, to the Christmas party for the Chicago office. She never lost the touch with clients. When Jose Luis Prado moved to Chicago to become CEO of Quaker Oats Co., he met my mother at our firm’s 60th anniversary celebration. The next day she personally delivered a homemade batch of oatmeal raisin cookies at his office with a note, “Welcome to Chicago.”
Ruth was blessed with three grandchildren who adored her. She dressed them in fancy outfits and insisted on an annual shopping spree before school began each year. She took them to the American Girl store for dolls. She loved to go out for dinner with my kids, eating foods not on my dad’s agenda, from spring rolls to spare ribs. Her rollicking laugh was never more evident. My mother was so proud of her brilliant daughter Renee whose deep commitment to journalism continues to this day, and of my brother John who absorbed Ruth’s desire to improve society.
Confronted by manic depressive illness in her mid-40s that caused two hospitalizations, Ruth refused to surrender, tackling the issue with the same fervor she did everything else in her life. She insisted on a full schedule. Utterly unashamed of her condition, she lobbied for mental health funding in the U.S. Senate. She became the first person outside of the medical community to receive the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association’s Jan Fawcett Humanitarian Award.
Ruth was equally resolute during Dan’s long final battle, going every day to the hospital for six months to hold his hand, kiss him on the lips and coo in his ear. And in her own eight-month struggle, she maintained her optimism and desire to see her friends. And for everything you’ve done for her, I’d like to give a special thank you to my mother’s devoted helpers, Aurelia Malacad, Alex Agoncillo, Jill Schmisek, and Dr. Wendy Stock, Dr. John Kress and Dr. Jesse Hall of the University of Chicago Medical Center.
So I will remember my mother as the consummate entertainer, hosting 100 people while coping with the inebriated caterer Nellie Murphy who had lofted herself into a CEO’s lap. I will remember her as the original super mom. I will remember Ruth every day in the perfect execution of the selfless life, devotion to her husband, her children, her home, her business and the world around her.
A year ago I stood before you to eulogize my father. My mother had preceded me, talking about her love affair with my dad, how they kissed like teenagers even after 59 years of marriage. She was brave, dignified and determined, a profile in courage.
She and Dan are now together again, as a latter-day Romeo and Juliet of whose love Shakespeare wrote, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep. The more I give to thee the more I have, for both are infinite.”
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.