“Bicycling Mayor” Ruth Bascom to be Honored Wednesday

Ruth Bascom 1926-2010

I didn’t live in Eugene when Ruth Bascom was the first female mayor of Eugene (1993-1997), nor did I live here when she was a city councilor for eight years before she became mayor.  I wasn’t around when she inspired and was the driving force behind the Ruth Bascom Riverbank Path System (named in 2003).   I wasn’t around when she helped pioneer cycling in Eugene in the 70’s and planned much of our current infrastructure.  But I do live here now, and there is rarely a day that I don’t benefit from the great work she did while she was here.  I never met her, never saw her, but I know her name because she improved my life.

Bascom passed away last Thursday from injuries sustained in an August 11th car crash near Bend.  She was 84.  The Greater Eugene Area Riders (GEARs) is planning a memorial ride on Wednesday, Sept. 1st at EWEB Plaza.

From GEARs:

Wednesday’s ride is free and open to all.  The ride will start at the EWEB Plaza, 500 East 4th Avenue, and follow the riverbank path for about 10 miles.  It will be a flat, easy, slow-paced ride suitable for riders of all ages and abilities.  Bicycle helmets are required by law for all riders under 16 years of age, and are highly recommended for everyone.

The ride is sponsored by GEARs (Greater Eugene Area Riders).  For more information, contact Sue at 541-345-2110 or sue@eugenegears.org

Take the jump to learn more about Ruth Bascom.

I’m not very qualified to write about Ruth Bascom myself, so instead I have provided several links and quotes to help others learn about her.  If you are like me and moved to Eugene post-Bascom, you have undoubtedly benefited from her pro-bicyclist work, but probably know little about her.  This may help a little:

Roseburg’s KPIC provides information and a 1997 video honoring Bascom.

The Register-Guard has published a long article on Bascom, exerts below (emphasis mine):


Ruth Bascom served eight years as a Eugene city councilor before she was elected the city’s first female mayor in 1992.

She was known as the “bicycling mayor,” and the city’s 12-mile Riverbank Trail System is named for her.

She served as chairwoman of both the Eugene Bicycle Committee and the Oregon Bicycle Advisory Committee during the 1970s.

Former City Manager Charles Henry recalled Friday that he learned of Bascom’s passion for making Eugene into a more bicycle-­friendly community shortly after he arrived in town in 1975.

“She immediately contacted me and pushed (her ideas) until she converted me into a bicycle fan,” Henry said.


She took her interest in bicycling to City Hall in 1971, as a member of the newly formed Eugene Bicycle Committee.

There, she became an integral part of a community group that developed the Eugene Bikeway Master Plan, which envisioned a paved trail looping around both banks of the Willamette River, connected by bicycle and pedestrian bridges.

She was elected to the City Council in 1984, and later served one term as mayor.

After that, she continued to push for completion of the trail system, and was honored by the city in 2003 when the final leg of the east bank path north of Valley River Center opened.

“Ruth had a big influence on Eugene and the way it is now,” said Paul Nicholson, a former city councilor who owns Paul’s Bicycle Way of Life shops in Eugene.

In addition to her work on bicycle issues, Bascom is remembered as a supporter of local arts and the library.

She also made one of the largest donations ever to the city in 1997 in honor of her mother, Doris Hays Fenton. The $100,000 donation created the Hays Memorial Tree Garden in Alton Baker Park.

[…]In 2000, Bascom was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She rode her bicycle to most of her doctor’s appointments before beating the disease, she said during a 2007 interview.

[…]Meanwhile, Eugene city officials are considering their own tribute to the former mayor, Mayor Kitty Piercy said Friday.

Piercy said she and other city officials were deeply saddened to learn of Bascom’s death.

“Ruth left her mark on our community in so many places,” Piercy said. “She loved this community and served it well, and I think it loved her back.”

The City of Eugene published this memorial:

The City of Eugene was notified today of the passing of Eugene’s first woman mayor, Ruth Bascom.  Mayor Kitty Piercy offered some comments to express her thoughts and feelings.

“Ruth Bascom was a truly remarkable human being and a major influence in creation of some of our city’s defining characteristics.  We will miss her deeply.  Our hearts go out in sympathy to her husband, her family and her many dear friends. Ruth’s pioneering spirit was an inspiration to me personally and I am grateful to her for her leadership on so many of Eugene’s important issues – the development of our nationally recognized bikeways and parks, the rejuvenation of downtown, and the initial effort to replace the Eugene Public Library building.  She was also an early advocate for improving Eugene’s rail services, an issue that is so important again right now. Ruth truly loved Eugene and showed that love in so many ways. Eugene owes much to Ruth Bascom. We are saddened at her loss and grateful that she made Eugene her home.”

Ruth Bascom was Eugene mayor from 1993 to 1997, but her leadership in the community began well before that. She and her husband, retired surgeon Dr. John Bascom, moved to Eugene in 1960, after growing up in Kansas, and living for stretches in Chicago, New York and Minnesota. She said she fell in love with Eugene, in part because it was a place where, “I knew I could bike around all year long.” She was appointed to the new Eugene Bicycle Committee in 1971 and helped develop the Eugene Bikeway Master Plan.  Most of the 12-mile Willamette path was completed by 1980, although the last link near Valley River Bridge was built more than 20 years later.

During two terms as a city councilor and then as Eugene’s mayor, Ruth patiently yet relentlessly pursued the dream of a paved trail along both banks of the river. Finally, the bicycle loop along the Willamette was completed in 2003 and dedicated as “The Ruth Bascom Riverbank Trail System.”

As a member of the Alton Baker Park Committee in the early 1970s, Ruth helped develop a master plan for the park that included a tree garden. Some thirty years later, she initiated the Hayes Memorial Tree Garden, named for her mother, Doris Hayes Fenton, which features trees with brilliant spring blossoms and fall foliage, providing places for contemplation, and enjoyment of its natural beauty.

Mayor Bascom was also proud to have ceremoniously taken a bulldozer to the concrete fountain at Broadway and Willamette, ultimately leading to the removal of the downtown mall and the reopening of both streets.

Ruth Bascom said that the root of her convictions was her desire to create a nurturing community for children and families. The community enjoys many tangible and lasting manifestations of her vision, desire, and energy.

Author: C-Gir


1 thought on ““Bicycling Mayor” Ruth Bascom to be Honored Wednesday”

  1. An editorial in the Register-Guard adds more to the story:

    The riverfront network is a large legacy, but as chairwoman of the Eugene Bicycle Committee and its statewide counterpart in the 1970s, Bascom did more than push for bike paths. Her aim was nothing less than acceptance of the bicycle as a legitimate, indeed preferred, method of urban transportation. Bascom’s biggest battles involved getting planners and engineers to see bicycles as more than toys. She was a visionary in this regard, and a successful one; her views have moved from the fringe into the mainstream.


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