Sally Ride blazed a path to the stars. Her sister, the Rev. Bear Ride helps us understand the heavens. In Bear’s office, there are two wonderful photos of these amazing sisters. The first one is of Sally in her astronaut suit standing next to Bear in her clerical collar and gown. Sally was the first American woman to travel into space and Bear was part of the early wave of women to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I love the delightful humor of the companion photo taken on the same day, years ago: the Ride sisters have exchanged outfits as Sally is now in the clerical collar and gown with Bear in the astronaut suit. I thought of these wonderful photos of two sisters each blazing new trails for women in the world and in the church as I received the call about Sally’s untimely death.
The Ride family is an all-American family and at the same time an extraordinary one. Sally and Bear’s parents, Joyce and Dale Ride encouraged them to study hard, to do their best and be anything they wanted to be. In 1983, Newsweek quoted Dale Ride as saying, “We might have encouraged, but mostly we just let them explore.” And, explore they did. Sally explored the stars; Bear explored the heavens, particularly how we can live together respecting all persons as children of God and one human family.
At a time when faith seems at odds with science, mystery takes a back seat to dogma, and fear is trying to drown out hope, the Ride family offers us a way to live together in harmony rather than division. I love the stories Bear shares about their family at First Presbyterian Church of Encino, Calif. Bear speaks wryly of her mother Joyce’s groundbreaking Sunday School lessons about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movements to the little children there. The Ride family illustrates that faith at its best fosters curiosity, compassion, open minds and hearts.
I was introduced to the Ride family through More Light Presbyterians. Bear had long been an advocate for LGBT persons in both church and society. Bear served as co-moderator of its national board during my time of service with More Light Presbyterians. I met Sally in 2000 at Bear and Susan’s holy union in their backyard. Susan Craig is also a Presbyterian minister. Bear and Susan got married at All Saints Church in Pasadena during that window of opportunity in California.
I believe that Joyce and Dale’s encouragement of their daughters to be their own persons, to be open and to explore empowered them to explore the mysteries of the heart and soul. As few people knew of Sally’s fierce battle with pancreatic cancer, many did not know that Sally had a wonderful loving partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, for 27 years. Love makes a family.
“Reach for the stars,” was the signature way Sally signed books she co-authored with Tam. It was also the inspiring message she gave to generations of girls, women and their families. Her beloved sister, Bear carries on the work of bringing heaven to earth.
Michael Adee is executive director of More Light Presbyterians, which advocates for LGBT justice.