I first met Sally Ride in 1996, when I was hired as a media consultant to the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (http://bit.ly/r5hsbO). Sally was the only woman on the 11-member executive committee.
For the next five years, I watched her in action as the committee deliberated nominations and administered the award. Among those around the table were a Nobel laureate, two past Tyler Prize recipients, and other eminent scientists, many with forceful personalities. Sally always came prepared and when she spoke it was with a calm authority that often cut through posturing and deadlocked votes to arrive at consensus.
Tyler Prize award banquets are glittering black-tie affairs, held in Beverly Hills. But Sally was not the ballgown type. She always attended the event wearing slacks and a dark, tailored jacket with a design of small crescent moons and stars. Yes, it was a playful nod to her historic position as first American Woman in Space, but it was so subtle that she never drew attention away from the evening’s award honorees.
In 2000, Sally called me at home to say she was leaving her position as president of the space and astronomy news website SPACE.com to pursue opportunities in science education. She wanted to hire me to write the news release and be the point person for the media calls.
Sally was a fiercely private person and her reluctance to give interviews was legendary among reporters. After the news was announced, a writer from a national publication called with three insightful questions I felt would nail the story and, in turn, lead to wider coverage as it was picked up by other media. I reached Sally on her cell phone. She was walking through an airport at the time, but she took my counsel and granted the interview before boarding her flight. Afterwards, the reporter phoned me with thanks and, words to the effect, “How’d you get her to call me!?!”
Due to an accounting error, my check for the assignment was $25 short. “I’ll make it up to you one cup of coffee at a time,” Sally said, and she was true to her word. Over the years, we would get together occasionally on the UCSD campus and enjoy a relaxing, quiet chat which often centered on the progress of Sally Ride Science to which she was utterly focused and devoted.
— Lynne Friedmann is a freelance science writer living in Solana Beach. She is a science correspondent and columnist for the La Jolla Light.