“She lived a good, full life,” 75-year-old Bud White said yesterday of his long-time friend and neighbor, Ruth L. Tighe, a librarian, columnist/writer, educator, environmentalist, and an exceptional citizen who passed away Wednesday night at the Commonwealth Health Center after a long and courageous fight with lung disease. She was 81.
Tighe first came to the Northern Marianas in the late '70s and has since made it her home. Often described as the “The Helen Thomas of Saipan,” Tighe more often described herself as a gadfly and wrote a weekly column, “On My Mind,” the last one of which came out on Friday at http://net.saipan.com/personal/omm.
“On My Mind” is an opinion piece on politics and governance, pension system, environment, economy, healthcare, education, utilities, and a host of other issues, and has appeared locally in one form or another, including in the Saipan Tribune a few years back.
“I not only lost a friend but the Commonwealth also lost a very valuable person. She cared for the Commonwealth,” said another of Tighe's friends, Gloria W. Hunter.
Hunter said Tighe was a “very outspoken” person. She said even though she and Tighe wouldn't agree on most issues, “her heart was in the right place. She had good intentions.”
Wheeling an oxygen tank wherever she went since 2009, Tighe never wavered in her resolve to speak up on issues important to the CNMI and its people. She attended public hearings on issues such as the NMI Retirement Fund, high utility rates, environmental woes, economic initiatives, education, healthcare, to name a few.
“I learned a lot from her. I will miss her. She's the only person I know who reads the Commonwealth Register. She was dragging her oxygen tank to public hearings. Very courageous woman,” Hunter said.
Hunter said she last spoke to Tighe on Friday, when the latter was working on her “On My Mind” column.
Hunter said in 2009, the doctors gave Tighe three to six months to live. She lived for another three years.
“She's surprised and happy about that. She believed in the power of prayers. She's active, always on the go and I think all those helped her live for three years more,” Hunter added.
In January 2010, the 16th Legislature adopted resolutions commending Tighe for her outstanding contributions to the CNMI.
“[I'm] humbled and greatly honored,” Tighe told Saipan Tribune after she accepted a copy of House Resolution 16-104 on Capital Hill two years ago.
Bud White said he had known Tighe for more than 30 years, starting when she worked at the CNMI Energy Division with Juan Camacho. White's family lives two houses away from Tighe in Tanapag.
“She liked to walk in Marpi. And we walked together for years. She's a dear friend. So many people look forward to reading her column, On My Mind. She lived a good, full life,” he said.
White said had Tighe been feeling well on Wednesday night, she could have also gone to Capital Hill for the historic vote on an impeachment resolution.
“She would have liked to go there, and ask questions or make comments. I know she's upset the governor signed a contract for a diesel power generator for 25 years. She said there's no reason why they would still be using diesel 20 to 25 years from now. She felt strongly about that issue,” White added.
White and his wife Donna said Tighe died peacefully.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Sablan (Ind-MP) said he was glad to hear that Tighe passed peacefully “but her passing is a loss.”
“I will miss her 'On My Mind' newsletters. I will miss her opinions and insights. I will miss Ruth Tighe, who was always a good friend and a citizen extraordinaire,” Sablan said.
Tighe was brought to CHC on Tuesday morning. The White couple said they were at the hospital from around 6pm to 8:30pm Wednesday night to be with their friend.
When they got back to their home in Tanapag, the hospital called to tell them she passed away. That was about 8:45pm, Bud White said.
“On Wednesday, she asked that we bring Scotch. So I brought her Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch. People at CHC were wonderful. Alcohol isn't allowed at the hospital but they said that's what Ruth wants and she might not live through the night. She could have gone back home, with a mask on (to help her breath). But she asked the doctor if the doctor could do it, unplug it, and the doctor said, 'Ruth you know I couldn't do that'. And Ruth said it won't hurt to ask. At quarter to 9, her heart stopped beating. She lived a good, full life,” Bud White said.
The CNMI's delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives said Tighe often made requests of her congressional office “but she never asked for herself.”
“Ruth always wanted something that would be good for all our community. Just last Monday, she spoke with me about the lack of public access to the latest environmental study of the military buildup. So we got the study on a CD for her and took it to her home. 'What about everyone else, who might want to see this?' Ruth asked. 'You've got to put it on your website, so everyone can read it,'” Sablan said.
Sablan said “Ruth was right; and she would be unhappy if we didn't publish the address: http://sablan.house.gov/press-release/integrated-natural-resources-management-plan-join-region-marianas.”
“Because Ruth believed that everyone should take a serious interest in the welfare of their community, that we should educate ourselves, and definitely speak our minds,” Sablan said.
The CNMI Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, through Sablan, recognized Tighe for her many outstanding contributions in building the literary wealth of the CNMI, raising the civic consciousness of the community, and offering present and future generations a model of excellence in public service and active citizenship.
“Members of the House recognize and commend the extraordinary accomplishments of Ms. Ruth L. Tighe as a professional librarian, writer, educator, and citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands,” a 2010 CNMI resolution partly reads.
Tighe was born in Wurzburg, Germany on July 9, 1931. She later immigrated with her family to the United States in 1934. She has five children and three grandchildren.
She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the State University of New York, and her Master of Library Science from Columbia University in New York City.
Tighe first came to Micronesia in the late 1970s from the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science to assist Guam, the CNMI, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific in preparing for the first ever White House Conference on Libraries held in Washington, D.C. in 1979.
She returned to Saipan in December 1980 to serve as a consultant to the Library Services section of the Department of Education. After several years with the Department of Education/Public School System, Tighe worked for Northern Marianas College, where she established its library.
Because of Tighe's adaptability, intellectual curiosity, and exceptional writing and research skills, her long career includes assisting the Coastal Resources Management, the Division of Environmental Quality, and the Division of Energy in the development of their printed materials. She also reported for Marianas Variety, and also served as editor and chief reporter of the Marianas Review.
Tighe also served as public information officer for the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. and as legal researcher for Eason & Halsell before retiring.
Throughout the years, she was involved in the activities of organizations such as Beautify CNMI!, Friends of the Monument, Commonwealth Retirees Association, Mariana Islands Nature Alliance, and the Friends of the Arts.
Community members have also been paying tribute to Tighe on social media, Facebook.
“So sad. Just found out that Ruth Tighe passed away. I will truly miss her columns and her feisty character. She is someone who didn't sugarcoat anything. She said it as she saw it, and was refreshingly honest with her opinions. I think we need more of that in our islands,” one said.
Another said, “My God... the clear-thinking conscience of the CNMI. I will miss her weekly newsletters terribly. A wonderful woman who cared much for her community.”
“A real loss. Her columns were needed common sense,” another said.