Claremont family celebrates release of Sally Ride stamp

Parents are prone to stretching the truth a smidge when discussing children’s accomplishments, but Joyce Ride isn’t saddled with that burden.

“She’s never failed to amaze me, even posthumously,” said the 94-year-old mother of the late Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Sally, who died from pancreatic cancer at age 61 in 2012, was honored May 23 with a US Postal Service Forever stamp bearing her portrait. “I look at the stamps and think, ‘Ha! That’s my kid!’”

The effervescent Joyce and her equally gregarious daughter, Bear Ride, 64, both live in Claremont. Bear and her wife Susan have lived at Pilgrim Place for about nine years, and her mother lives nearby.

The Ride girls were raised in Encino. They were both high achievers, but their mother recalled they chose divergent paths even as youngsters.

“Yes, they definitely went in different directions,” she said. “I said at the time, ‘We’ll see who gets to heaven first.’ Sally went up in a rocket and Bear went to seminary.”

Bear Ride may be most familiar to Claremonters as the former pastor of Claremont Presbyterian Church, where she served from the early 1980s to 1990.

“It’s quite something,” Bear said of her late sister’s most recent accolade. “When we got back,” after the stamp unveiling ceremony, “people were coming up to me and complaining because the Claremont Post Office hadn’t yet got the stamp. I understand there was quite a run of Pilgrims and Presbyterians at our poor little postal office. But I think they got word and now have plenty. I think my mother herself probably bought quite a few too!”

To hear her mother tell it, Sally was a trailblazer all her life.

“Sally was a great tennis player,” she said. “At one point she considered going pro. And that’s why she knew Billie Jean King [who spoke at the May 23 event]. Billie Jean watched her play, and told her if she improved her forehand she might make it as a pro. And that was flattering, but that wasn’t what Sally wanted with her future: she wanted an education.”

Sally earned her PhD in physics from Stanford University in 1977. Before graduating, she saw a write up in the school newspaper, The Stanford Daily, indicating that NASA was looking for its first female astronauts. She applied, and was hired. Her mother said it was less than a dream come true moment for Sally than simply the lure of a new challenge.

“She was sort of whimsical,” Joyce Ride said. “Until she saw that NASA was taking women, she never thought about it.”

She excelled at NASA, and on June 18, 1983—35 years ago next Monday—Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, leaving earth’s atmosphere on space shuttle Challenger mission STS-7. (Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space on June 16, 1963). Ms. Ride had one more mission aboard Challenger in 1984.

Ms. Ride retired from NASA and joined the UC San Diego faculty in 1989 as a professor of physics. She co-authored seven books about science for children, and co-founded Sally Ride Science, an educational company that seeks to get young people into science, technology and math careers. The San Diego-based nonprofit is still going strong today.

Ms. Ride has been the recipient of several honors, including the United States’ highest civilian prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was awarded posthumously by President Barack Obama in 2013. And last December, the US Postal Service announced she would be commemorated on a Forever stamp, alongside the year’s other honorees, John Lennon, Lena Horne and Fred Rogers.

“When they issued the stamp, the post office sent out an announcement and called her a ‘brilliant physicist,’” Joyce Ride said. “And she was. She was a pretty smart kid.”

Most parents have the experience of handing over the car keys to their kids for the first time, watching them motor away, and then white-knuckling it on the Barcalounger until they return. Imagine that parental rite of passage, except substitute a 4.4 million pound space ship fueled by a half-million gallons of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, rocketing up to space at 17,500 miles-per-hour.

“Ha! It was pretty scary,” Joyce said. “I didn’t admit it at the time. I just said I was having fun, but I was sweating a little. It’s quite a feeling to see a blast off.”

Sally was always pushing the envelope, Joyce said. “Yes, but that was pushing it pretty hard. When you see a blast off you realize that it’s the real thing.”

Surely watching her daughter catapult into space was the most nerve-racking parental moment of her 61 years. “It was kind of scary. But not quite as scary as when I saw her playing rugby,” Joyce quipped.

Sally—all five feet, five inches and 110 pounds of her—played rugby at Stanford. “It’s kind of brutal to watch, but she loved it. Most of the people were bigger and stronger. It’s just something you don’t want to see your daughter doing.”

Predictably, the issuance of the new stamp brought out Ride family and friends from around the country.

“I’ve had a few letters from relatives and friends back east,” Joyce Ride said. “They’ve stood in line and bought a bunch of stamps, then quickly wrote to me to let me know that they had them. It’s nice to go to the mailbox and find letters with Sally Ride stamps on them.”

Speaking with families who have lost someone dear can, understandably, be a challenge, as it often stirs up the dust of a painful memory. The Rides were the exception. They both spoke with joy and humor about their daughter and sister.

Joyce Ride may be 94, but she’s got the wit and enthusiasm of someone in her 30s. She’s enjoying her time in Claremont, and even revealed she’s an avid COURIER reader, if only a specific section. “Oh, I always read the obits,” she said, “to make sure I’m not in them.”

Her late daughter’s most recent honor was an especially sweet one, she said.

“It was a fun event. I sat there and listened to these very well-known women talk about my kid. I was sitting in the audience, and the guy next to me said, ‘That was really something.’ And he introduced himself. When I said, ‘I’m Sally’s mother.’ He said ‘Whoa!’”

The ceremony featured a host of speakers who highlighted Sally’s many accomplishments, and her seemingly endless storehouse of energy for so many pursuits. It was a nice day for the Ride family.

“Yeah, there wasn’t much she couldn’t do,” Joyce Ride said, then taking a beat, “Except cook.”

—Mick Rhodes


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