Dr. Ruth H. Singer, a retired physician who was a state health administrator and later worked in AIDS and HIV treatment at Chase Brexton Health Services, died of pancreatic cancer May 27 at her North Baltimore home. She was 69.
"What one loved about Ruth is that she never held back," said Dr. Alfred "Al" Sommer, dean emeritus of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "If something was too soft and dreamy, she insisted on facing the practical nature of the course of action and hoped for an outcome."
Born Ruth Harris in the Bronx, N.Y., she was the daughter of Irving Harris, a certified public accountant and Anne Harris, a homemaker. She was a graduate of the Bronx High School of Science and earned a bachelor's degree in biology at the University of Pennsylvania and a medical degree from the State University of New York at its downstate campus. Dr. Singer also had a master's degree from the Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Family members said that as a first-year medical student, she met John Alan Singer, who was then a second-year student, while she was dissecting a cadaver in an anatomy class.
The couple married in 1966. They moved to Boston where she interned at the U.S. Public Health Services Hospital. In 1970 they settled in Baltimore where she completed her residency in public health at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. She worked in preventive medicine.
"My mother accumulated friends the same way she accumulated eyeglasses, scarves and chunky colorful necklaces — there were some older ones that she cherished, but there was always room for a new and special one," said her son, Dr. Daniel Adam Singer of Malawi, Africa, in a eulogy. "Because she was a role model and willing mentor, many of these friends were much younger than she."
From 1975 to 1980 she was the Carroll County health officer. Dr. Singer then became the director of local health administration for the state and worked at its West Preston Street headquarters.
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she stepped down from the state job because of the travel involved. She wished to remain active in heath care and in 1990 she joined Chase Brexton Health Services and worked several days a week. She was director of its sexually transmitted diseases clinic. Her lab coat read, "Dr. Ruth."
"It was a very challenging public health job. AIDS was arguably the third-largest public health crisis in the 20th century," said a public health colleague, Andrew L. Solberg, a Columbia resident. "She was working at the predominant AIDS clinic in Baltimore."
She also sang in the Beth Am Congregation choir and hosted rehearsals.
"I meet her at her house at a rehearsal. I was a young physician, and she pushed me and encouraged to join Chase Brexton," said Dr. Judy Davidoff, a family physician now on the staff of Chase Brexton. "She said that I could do the work and, more important, that I should do the work."
Dr. Davidoff, who lives in Mount Washington, recalled her colleague: "She had something to say about everything. She could be sarcastic, but not in a nasty way. She had a way with words."
After retiring in 2000 from Chase Brexton, Dr. Singer became a Baltimore Museum of Art docent and often led schoolchildren on tours.
In 2006 Dr. Singer become one of the organizers of a group that led annual humanitarian medical missions to Cali, Colombia. She traveled on seven of the missions providing medical services to the indigent population of Cali.
Dr. Singer also enjoyed beading and making necklaces for friends. She also donated her necklaces as auction items for charity.
She served on the executive committee of Jewish Family Services and had been treasurer of the Hillel of Greater Baltimore's executive committee. She was a Hebrew Day School volunteer.
Dr. Singer was a past president of the Board of Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Society of Alumni.
"Shortly after I became dean of the School of Public Health, I discovered that our alumni association was more than dysfunctional," said Dr. Sommer, of the Hopkins Bloomberg School. "I asked Ruth, as a friend and special favor, to be president. ... We met any number of times. ... She was extremely helpful in getting to the heart of real issues, and then helping to lead the alumni association, and the school, forward in valuable discussions and program planning. She was a devoted, down-to-earth alumnus and public health professional."
Services were held May 29 at Sol Levinson and Brothers.
In addition to her husband of 46 years, a retired surgeon; and her son, she is survived by a daughter, Naomi Anne Singer of Brooklyn, N.Y.; a brother, David Harris of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; a sister, Susan Harris of Los Angeles; and two granddaughters.