Meet the Character: Ruth Etherington, An Unlikely Hero, Part 2

Ruth Etherington returned with her husband, Harold, and their ten-year-old son, Geoff, to their home in Milwaukee following their rescue from the torpedoed Athenia. Ruth would never again experience the intensity of the emotions she felt saving her son’s life (see Ruth Etherington, An Unlikely Hero, Jan. 2, 2015). But in the years that followed, she would support and encourage the remarkable achievements of the two men in her life.

When the United States entered World War 2 in 1941, Ruth used her university studies in mathematics and chemistry to take a job as a hydraulic engineer for the Allis-Chalmers Co. On the day Japan surrendered to end the war she resigned her position and returned to the varied hobbies and interest she loved. An avid photographer and artist, she also supported many civic causes in the communities where the Etheringtons lived.

Ruth was a vivacious complement to her husband’s important engineering career, which included pioneering work in nuclear energy. Harold Etherington began his nuclear engineering work in 1946 at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee,. Two years later he became director of the Naval Reactor Division at Argonne National Laboratory, outside of Chicago. In this capacity he helped develop the reactor for the Nautilus, the U.S. Navy’s first nuclear submarine.

Harold designed reactors for commercial nuclear power plants, and years later served on a national committee concerned with nuclear reactor safeguards. He was a major contributor and editor of the Nuclear Engineering Handbook, an indispensable reference work. Seen as one of the fathers of nuclear power, he received the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission’s Gold Medal in 1974 for his contributions to the nation’s nuclear energy program, and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1978.

Geoff, the Etherington’s only child, earned a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue University, a master’s degree in business administration from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University, a law degree from Loyola University of Chicago, and a medical degree from Yale University. He founded his own successful corporation, Etherington Industries, headquartered in Madison, CT. The business acquires struggling companies and turns them into profitable enterprises to be resold or retained by the parent company.

Ruth died in 1994 at age ninety. Harold, ninety-four, died that same year. Geoff is retired but continues to own an aerospace machine shop. He and he and his wife, Marie, live in Connecticut and Florida.

Photo credit:

Thomas Sanger View more

Thomas C. Sanger is a journalist and author residing in San Diego, CA with his wife, author Kay Sanger. His forthcoming novel, Without Warning, is a historical novel about the British passenger ship Athenia, which was attacked by a German submarine only a few hours after England declared war on Germany at the start of World War II in 1939.

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