Shortly after arriving in Fairbanks in 1976, Ruth Lister found work as a diesel truck mechanic. Fifteen years later, she began overseeing the UAF community college program that offered training in such work.
Lister’s unconventional path began in Toronto, Canada, where she grew up the daughter of successful academic parents. She earned a doctorate in micrometeorology and math at New York’s Cornell University.
But life steered her and a toddler daughter to Fairbanks in 1976. She had no job and so began working at her daughter’s daycare center. She then found work as a diesel truck mechanic for several years.
Volunteer work at a women’s shelter, the predecessor of today’s Interior Alaska Center for Non-violent Living, led to a six-year stint as executive director. When former Fairbanks Rep. Steve Cowper was elected governor in 1986, he hired Lister as director of the Alaska Women’s Commission in Juneau.
She lost that job in the transition to a new administration in 1990, so she returned to Fairbanks and began working as a top administrator in UAF’s community college program — the forerunner of today’s Community and Technical College.
Lister successfully led efforts to bring the university and local school district vocational training programs together in the Hutchison Institute of Technology.
Her “personal style has enabled her to take on the most difficult of tasks and to make their resolution appear remarkably easy because of her steady sense of self and her serenity and grace under the pressure of intense circumstances,” the University of Alaska Board of Regents said in a resolution of appreciation in February 2000.
Lister, who had fought breast cancer since an initial diagnosis the 1980s, retired that year. She died in Juneau in 2002 at age 58.
More online about Ruth Lister:
- A resolution of appreciation approved Feb. 18, 2000, by the UA Board of Regents
- A 2009 Aurora magazine profile of her life and work