Remembering Ruth Peterkin

Lionel and Ruth
Lionel and Ruth

I first met Ruth Peterkin near Xmas 1988, on the top floor of Nancy & Bill Burns B&B home in Back Bays Boston MA. She was staying in the room next door and we were doing the USA tour of 12 States/Cities to promote our B&B business. Ruth was visiting her mother in a local a nursing home. She strode up to us and gave us her card, and over that weekend and lunch we became friends. That was who Ruth was to us both for the next 24yrs, a great intellectual fun loving, exuberant, and sophisticated, new life-time friend. We accepted her offer to call on her when in NYC, and then again and again over the next 20+ years; every trip overseas became via NYC USA and Ruth’s apartment. We had the honor of her staying at our humble Melbourne (also top floor) large apartment inner-city B&B on her first trip to Australia. She arrived in Melbourne via New Zealand, as we were departing for Cairns for a weeks break.

Ruth unpacked her bags and was on her way to Ayers Rock (Uluru) next day so we planned to meet her in Cairns in a day or so. She wasn’t too wild about Northern Territory or climbing the giant rock it seems so we picked her up from Cairns airport in a garish pink convertible VW love bug. We stayed in a large low-rise 5th Floor apartment/hotel overlooking the sea in Cairns, doing driving day trips to Port Douglas and the Daintree Heritage National Forests, and Island hopping tours of The great Barrier Reef for about 4 days. Ruth decided she wanted to go back to the Melbourne apartment for a rest early (Australia is a long flight from NYC and we guessed she might be still jet-lagged).

Ruth Peterkin and Janet Humphries-Grey penthouse St Kilda dinner party 1989
Lionel Curtis at Ruth Peterkin’s 1989 Penthouse St Kilda Australia dinner-party 1989
Lionel Curtis at Ruth Peterkin’s 1989 Penthouse St Kilda Australia dinner-party 1989

When we arrived back home, to our amazement Ruth had called a dozen of our best friends, shopped for food in our local Jewish Quarter district Acland St. St Kilda and had organized a surprise welcome home “Typical NYC Jewish dinner” cooked by her with all our friends. She was a smash hit and all her new friends were converted. Not at all shy, she then went out alone, and with several of her new friends for coffee visiting and enjoying life in our small seaside suburb.

In 1991 we moved to San Sebastian Spain to live (via NYC and Ruth of course), Spain didn’t work out, so we returned to Oz via Kenya Africa to live in Perth, then to Canberra. Lionel secured a 3 month writing job covering the 1994 NYC Gay Games. Any excuse catching up with my best buddy Ruth I must confess. It then became Ruth’s turn to look after me in NYC. She arranged for her dear friend and physiotherapist George and his partner to house me for free in their W 96th & Amsterdam apartment for the duration of the games. Ruth and I had breakfast every morning, lunch & most times dinner together for the month(s) I was billeted. She even marched through Central Park in the Gay parade closing of the games. Once again Ruth became the grand organizer, compassionate caring friend and provider for me way back then, her friendship had become the most important of my entire life.


Throughout the next 2 decades we were in constant contact talking by phone each week and exchanging written material/letters regularly. I also recall after leaving my job in an art gallery in Pennsylvania, not having my airfare home, she loaned me several thousand dollars for the trip. Chance had it that was 10 days before the Sept 11 Twin Towers attack, and without her assistance I would have been stranded for months on Manhattan Island unable to leave.

Ruth Peterkin and Tony Shepherd at her apartment NYC 2005

In 2005 with my partner Tony Shepherd, we headed off to hear music around Europe, via naturally NYC & Ruth (we had just started our new internet opera/music review business). Sadly we were only to spend a few short hours with Ruth on this trip, which was to become our last time together. We only had 4 nights in NYC then 2 in London reviewing Les Miserable’s and Phantom of The opera and then Europe, La Scala, Rome, Venice, Paris, Monte Carlo for the remaining weeks.

As Ruth’s health deteriorated, we stayed in close communication weekly by phone over the next final years. The last conversation I had with her she professed sadly, that “all her old local friends had either passed away or were too ill to visit her; the only people I see now are doctors and helpers”.

Fiercely independent, Ruth was slowing down, her wonderful family were now her whole world, and her writings which she would never let me publish were put side for health issues.

Ruth had strong, modern, progressive opinions on the world, politics and her profession of teaching, sharing her life with devotion to her son David, wife Nancy, and their two sons. On behalf of her local newfound Aussie friends Les Greenhill, Eugene O’Rourke, Noel Richards, Janice Filipuzzi, Janet Grey, and Jane Harrison. Rest In Peace, safe journey our dear friend Ruth passed away on Fri 5th October 2012 aged 89.