Tribute to Ruth Gottlieb: Indefatigable Champion of THE VOTE

The Haverford Township Democratic Party lost one of its Most Valuable Players this month when Dr. Ruth Gottlieb, age 90, died from health problems she had managed with dignity and fortitude for many years. We grieve along with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, as well as with the residents of the Quadrangle, where she was a tireless worker for voting access and a dedicated member of the Haverford Democratic Party from Ward 4.

Ruth was the engine that drove the voting machine at the Quadrangle for over a decade. Before she arrived, no resident had taken charge of making sure that all who could vote were registered to vote, that all who wanted an absentee ballot got one, and that all who got an absentee ballot returned it. Ruth Gottlieb was the person who saw the need for an organized voting operation at the Quadrangle and, in the beginning, she met that need all on her own.

Over time, with the help of fellow residents like Charles and Barbara Blum and the mentorship of the Democrats’ Ward 4 Leader Joan Tarka, Ruth built up a team of “captains” responsible for their own residential wing. Barbara recalls that Ruth made it her business to “check with the Bureau of Elections to be sure that every absentee ballot requested from the Quadrangle had been received. If not, she tracked down the resident to remind them about mailing it in.”

So successful was Ruth’s operation that 4-1, the Quadrangle’s ward and precinct, soon stood out as a spot in both Haverford Township and Delaware County with a remarkable number of absentee ballots – both requested and returned. According to Joan Tarka, 4-1 was the Haverford precinct that needed extra volunteers to count all the absentee ballots on election night. Rachel Amdur remembers county meetings at which 4-1 would be declared the Delco “the winner” in securing absentee ballots. This was long before anyone in Pennsylvania was lauding mail-in voting.

In talking about Ruth, Barbara recalled her surprise when she would recruit help from a resident who Barbara thought of as “not political at all.” Eventually, Barbara realized that Ruth was an effective political organizer because “people felt attached to Ruth very quickly” and wanted to work with her. They were drawn to her “bright, charming” personality, her self-effacing manner, and her sincere devotion to electoral work.

Dr. Ruth Panzer Gottlieb had no time for political activism before arriving at the Quadrangle in her late 70’s. She’d been busy enough as a Philadelphia pediatrician and pediatric nephrologist (having been one of four women in her medical school class at PENN in the 1950’s), and as a wife and mother of three who lived a family life full of tennis, cooking, gardening, knitting, and so much more.

Ruth viewed her voting access work at the Quadrangle as a civic, not a partisan, activity. At the Current Events meetings Ruth ran every week, says Barbara, “she beat the drum for registering and voting” not for any particular cause or candidate. Still, Ruth was a dedicated Democrat, and Barbara mused that Ruth’s work at the Quadrangle may have been lightened by the fact that Democrats comprise over 75% of registered voters at the Quadrangle.

Joan Tarka thinks that Ruth “attended more Democratic Party meetings than most Committee,” riding in with the Blums and “always sitting front and center.” This was back before 2016, before most Democrats in Haverford Township got hit over the head by the reminder that a political party must have active members to thrive. Ruth was there, front and center, before it was hip, before it was cool. She was doing the most important grassroots work any American can do: register the voters and make sure their votes get counted. In this time when the vote itself is under threat, we pause to draw inspiration from Dr. Ruth Gottlieb.