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1926 Ruth 2024

Ruth S. Downs

November 13, 1926 — April 10, 2024

Ruth S. Downs, age 97, of Madison, WI, died on April 10, 2024, at Oakwood Hospice. She was born in Staten Island, NY, on November 13, 1926, the daughter of Louis St. James and Frieda (Sallach) St. James. 

During high school she studied the clarinet, hoping to make a career as an orchestra musician. She went to Oberlin College to study music but realized that her talents were elsewhere and instead she finished college with an English degree. At Oberlin, she met a fellow musician who was studying the cello, Warren Downs, who would be her future husband. After college she moved to Denver, CO, and Warren soon followed. They were married and eventually returned to New York state. After Warren finished his master’s degree at Eastman School of Music, they lived in New York City for a year so Warren could obtain his Musicians Union Card. They enjoyed the big city although they had little money. 

Moving to St. Louis Missouri, Ruth worked as a secretary and decided to study law, graduating from Washington University School of Law. After moving to Cleveland, OH for Warren’s work, Ruth worked in private practice until they moved to Madison, WI in 1971. She worked for some time at Wisconsin Indian Legal Services and then at the State Public Defender’s Office until her retirement. She did volunteer work with the Innocence Project and at Madison Literacy Network. Ruth enjoyed traveling, both with Warren when Orchestra tours took them abroad, and on adventure travel trips far and wide. 

Surviving Ruth are her daughter Carol Downs, son-in-law Moises Valeriano, sister Helen Waitz of Redlands, CA, and several nieces and nephews and their families. She was preceded in death by her husband Warren, parents, brother Louis Grier St. James, and sister Elma Demarest. Ruth will be remembered for her compassion and concern for vulnerable people, creatures great and small, and places in the natural world.

A celebration of life will be held at a later date.


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