Photo: © Robert Altman - 2001
Rosemary Woodruff Leary 1936 - 2002
Ro Leary was my friend... my 'bud."
I am not much of a phone conversationalist. There are only 4 people I like to linger with on the telephone. Laugh and cry with. Now there are 3.
She passed rather suddenly and she knew she was going. Her last request was that her dear friend and roommate Denis Berry read a special poem at a memorial gathering yesterday, the poem you see above.
I wrote this to our friend Cindy today- "I really, really miss her. I still use the present tense when I talk about her. I keep looking at her picture. She is sooooo here! But I can't find her."
Goodnight sweet Princess...wait for me.
A page I did about Ro a few years ago.
On April 20, a lovely spring day in Santa Cruz
County, a memorial service was held for Rosemary Woodruff Leary, a woman
who is as responsible as anyone else for pioneering serious and long overdue
research into consciousness and psychedelic research The sheer number
of those who came to pay their respects when Rosemary died and at the
subsequent memorial testified to the fundamental role she played during
the decade of psychedelic revolution. Those psychedelic luminaries who
have not succumbed to age and infirmity were there: Ram Dass was at her
hospital bed: Ralph Metzner, Frank Barron, Peggy Hitchcock, Robert Anton
Wilson, Michael and Cindy Horowitz, Chet Helms and many others made their
final journey to the pastoral home under the redwoods in Aptos California
where Rosemary spent the final years of her life.
Ro, as she was known to her friends, began her psychedelic journey long
before her liaison with Dr. Timothy Leary which was to propel her to fame
and eventually lead to her twenty four years in exile. In the fifties,
as one of the early seekers who prefigured America's emerging counter-culture,
she left her middle class home to live among Beats and jazz musicians
and experimented with psylicibin mushrooms and peyote.
Those at the memorial who had shared life with the Learys at Milbrook
talked about her critical role in creating the set and setting which shaped
LSD experimentation in its formative years Because of the pervasive sexism
which obscured the intellectual contributions of women in the fifties
and early sixties, the extent of Rosemary's intellectual contribution
to this research was largely unrecognized in the public eye, but Leary
himself was quite explicit about it. As he tells us in FLASHBACKS:
For many, what makes Rosemary Woodruff Leary, the true heroine of the psychedelic movement, even more than her work at Milbrook was her consistent refusal to cooperate with Federal Authorities . Those who were inside the movement know that it was Rosemary's refusal to testify against Leary which landed her in solitary confinement for thirty days after Liddy busted Milbrook in 66. It was Rosemary who orchestrated Timothy's escape from prison in 1970 with the aid of the Weather Underground and laid the plans for their subsequent escape to Algeria. And most critically, it was Rosemary who refused in 1970 an offer of amnesty from the FBI in exchange for cooperating with them by providing names of others who had committed illegal acts in the name of freedom of consciousness.
This refusal was to define the course of her life. In her own words: "After
escaping from Algeria, and suffering through yet another arrest and release
in Switzerland, I left Leary, searching a country that would allow me
to find some peace and sanity. What followed were years of adventure and
fear in some very far flung places...I lived underground as a fugitive
for twenty four years in Europe and the Americas, long after Leary was
captured again and eventually released from the US prison system.
Because of Rosemary Leary, many founding members of the psychedelic movement lived out their lives in freedom rather than jail cells. She paid a high price for the freedom of others: not until 1995 could she say "I have regained my freedom and I am free again to write." For 24 years, she was a woman without a home, who lived with a suitcase perennially packed by the side of her bed, and feared every knock on the door.
The New York Times The San Francisco Chronicle The Village Voice