Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel into space, passed away Monday at age 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. The astronaut and scientist came out as a lesbian in the obituary posted on her website, announcing that she is survived by her partner of 27 years, Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy, as well as other members of her family.
Bear Ride, Sally Ride’s sister, who also identifies as lesbian, spoke to BuzzFeed about her sister’s decision to come out, saying that she hoped to inspire young people, but that Sally Ride was also an intensely private person who also chose not to divulge her illness to the public until its end. “People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, that’s going to be a huge shock,” Bear said, “For 17 months, nobody knew — and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer.
“The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there’s now this advocate that they didn’t know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same,” she said. “I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”
Tam O’Shaughnessy and Sally Ride met on a tennis court in Southern California at the age of twelve and remained lifelong friends before becoming partners 27 years ago. Together the two women ran Sally Ride Science, a science education advocacy organization “dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology.” O’Shaugnessy, who was profiled in yesterday’s International Business Times, is a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University as well as Sally Ride Science’s chief operating officer and executive vice president.
In addition to running the foundation, Ride and O’Shaughnessy co-authored several books together, including Mission: Planet Earth: Our World and Its Climate — and How Humans Are Changing Them and Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System. Both books are aimed at young readers with an eye toward interesting them in science.
“We all have our dreams and wishes, and that might be yours or mine, but she’s just like, you probably don’t know what her politics are either. It’s a family matter,” Bear said. “That wasn’t her battle of choice — the battle of choice was science education for kids. And I just hope that all the different components of Sally’s life go towards helping kids.”
In addition to Bear Ride and O’Shaughnessy, Sally Ride is survived by her mother Joyce, her niece Caitlin and nephew Whitney.
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