Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A Remarkable Life

When I first came to Wheaton, I met Professor Emeritus Holcombe Austin, who was a retired Philosophy professor and also an expert on trees.  He and his wife Ethelind were fixtures on the Wheaton campus, and I remember chatting with him at lunch when I was a brand-new assistant professor.  He was a fascinating and very kind person. 

Sadly, Holcombe passed away in 2003 at the age of 97, and a few days ago Ethelind also died, either at 100 or just shy of making her century.

Below I've pasted in Ethelind's obituary from the Denver Post. What a remarkable life!


Ethelind Elbert Austin, the grandniece of Colorado territorial governor Samuel Elbert--for whom Mount Elbert is named--and the great-grandniece-in-law of territorial governor John Evans--for whom Mount Evans is named--died at her home in Aurora on January 28.

A skilled and avid horsewoman, she rode in 1917 at the age of 8 to the top of Mount Evans, long before the road to the peak was built. It was a 16-hour single-day round trip, starting by moonlight at 3 a.m. for an ascent of some 7000 feet from the family ranch in upper Bear Creek Canyon. When the ride was over, she later recalled almost falling asleep face first into her soup.

She was a raconteur of early Colorado history and in her 90's sometimes told historical anecdotes ("The Story of Deadeye Dick" was a favorite) at events in Denver at the Byers-Evans House museum, which she visited as a little girl when the family of territorial governor John Evans was still living in the house.

She was born in Des Moines, Iowa, grew up on a family farm, and by age 16 had the ambition of becoming the nation's first female competitive racing jockey, but instead she enrolled as a student in Radcliffe College, in Cambridge, MA, where she graduated with honors in Romance languages in 1930 and where she met a graduate student in philosophy from Texas named Holcombe Austin. They were married in 1933. He taught philosophy at Harvard College, Scripps College in California, and for most of his career he was professor of philosophy at Wheaton College, in Norton, MA, where she was a librarian at the college.

After retirement in 1970, they spent each summer at the family ranch in upper Bear Creek Canyon, where she rode nearly daily through age 98 and was the acknowledged local expert on the canyon's trails.

She is survived by three children. John Austin, M.D., is a professor of radiology at Columbia University in New York City, David Austin is former principal cellist of the New Haven and Hartford, CT, symphony orchestras and a businessman in Hoonah, AK, and Sue Austin Ricketts, Ph.D., is a demographer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and lives in Denver. She is survived also by 8 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.


jeniffercox said...

It truly is a small world.

J. H. Austin said...

As one of Ethelind's 8 grandchildren, I thank you for posting this. She will be missed.