Professor of Philosophy (1968-92)
Presented: March 2, 2021, by Katheryn Doran, associate professor of philosophy
In my remarks I will draw on many reminiscences Betty’s colleagues and friends, and her son Andy, kindly sent me. Thank you, all.
Elizabeth Muir Ring — Betty — was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the daughter of Andrew and Marjorie Muir. She graduated from the University of Manitoba, and got her Ph.D. in philosophy from Brown University. In 1959, she moved to Clinton when she married Jim Ring, Hamilton ’51, who was in the Physics Department at Hamilton College. Their marriage lasted 60 years, until Jim’s death in 2019. In 1963, Betty and Jim’s son Andy was born. Andy would go on to follow his father to Hamilton as a student in the Class of 1984.
Betty was in the Hamilton Philosophy Department from 1968 until 1992 where she taught, among other courses, a popular and influential course on symbolic logic, and she published interesting papers in epistemology, her first love in philosophy.
Speaking of logic, and Betty and Jim’s son Andy, in the early ’80s while still an undergraduate, Andy and two other Hamilton students started an LSAT prep software company that came to be named LOGICAT. Based on the quality of the questions in LOGICAT’s initial software, the LSAT hired the team to develop actual LSAT questions. And Betty was at the center of this operation as the lead editor. For about 10 years, many of the questions on the LSAT were developed by Logicat, under Betty’s oversight. And in short order LOGICAT became a vendor to LSAC, The College Board, ETS, and many of the largest accounting firms in the world (the Big Six at the time), a success Andy attributes in large part to Betty’s work and leadership.
In addition to being a trailblazer, Betty was a colleague, friend, mentor, and role model. Her friend Janet Halley, a member of the Hamilton English Department in the mid ’80s, and now Royall Professor of Law at Harvard Law wrote: Betty was a philosopher 100% of the time: she applied her philosophical skills to everything. You just could not get away with BS around her. And at a time when everyone was so angry, just after the Kirkland-Hamilton merger, Betty had a different way of being political: she was indignant at the terrible things that were going down at the College. Almost offended. Her razor-sharp mind picked out exactly what she disapproved of and sorted it out from all the Sturm und Drang around it.
Phil Pearle, professor of physics emeritus, also beautifully captures Betty’s persona and candle power when he writes: “Betty would listen attentively, tilting her head ever so slightly while you spoke, then she would summarize your points better than you could, affirm where she agreed and why, and state any disagreement with lucid, devastating analysis. I early on concluded that Betty was the smartest person on the faculty, and I never had reason to change that opinion. … I was used to precise mathematical argument, but it was in talking with Betty that I came to realize that there were people for whom verbal argument achieved comparable precision.”
Those of us lucky enough to have been in the Philosophy Department book group or the feminist scholarship book group can readily conjure Betty from Phil’s keenly evocative portrait.
Nancy Rabinowitz, professor of comparative literature emerita, noted that Betty, Patricia Cholakian, associate professor of French emerita who died in 2003, and the other first women at Hamilton have not been recognized adequately, if at all, by the College for their contributions to helping convert it into a co-educational institution. After Hamilton became co-ed, Betty was one of the founding members of the Faculty for Women’s Concerns/FWC — not to be confused with a contemporaneous FWC, the Faculty Wives Club. The Faculty for Women’s Concerns, then and now, has tackled women’s equity matters on campus. Betty was a fierce and tireless advocate for women, and for feminist scholarship (in spite of disagreeing with quite a bit of that scholarship (see remarks above). What a debt we all owe these first women. I hope this memorial helps to correct the oversight at least a little. Thank you, Betty, and Patricia.
Finally, an amalgam of vivid images that mirror what I heard from many:
Bonnie Krueger, Professor of French writes: I remember fondly how warmly Betty greeted me as a young faculty member in my first year of fulltime teaching in what was at the time a very traditional, mostly male, institution. Betty was a breath of fresh air, unstuffy, an astute observer of academic life who offered wise counsel and unconditional support. She and Jim hosted convivial and delicious meals in their home at the edge of Griffin Road.
In my own voice I’ll add that Betty had a distinctively warm and welcoming voice in her greeting (I can hear it in my mind’s ear).
In addition to Betty’s passions for clarity and rigor, equity and justice, she was a flat out superb cook, and as Bonnie Krueger also noted, she and Jim were avid European travelers, through the French countryside especially, where they visited cathedrals, Roman ruins, and wonderful restaurants. The bounty of those trips spilled over gladly onto friends and colleagues, old and new, through their lively stories, excellent wines (Jim’s department), and Betty’s new culinary feats.
To close I return to Janet Halley’s note: Betty and Jim had elegant Nordic modern taste and the house was a musical poem of colors and angles. You would sit in the living room near a toasty fire in their fabled fireplace for a while before dinner where it was warm, peaceful, simple, but a little stately in its poise and quiet deliberateness. I loved going over there. My five years at the College were very hard, there was a lot of conflict: Betty and Jim took us young women under their wing and made it all seem to fade into the background for a few magical hours. Oh, I miss them! There were wonderful. They had good lives. But it still makes me cry right now, as if it were somehow not inevitable.
Betty died of COVID-19 at the age of 87 on Jan. 19, 2021, bringing the end to one half of the loveliest couples ever to grace Hamilton — or Earth for that matter. Betty is survived by Andy, daughter-in-law Flo, and grandson Angus of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and two brothers, Jim Muir, and Rod Muir.