Friends of Rosemary Woodruff Leary have put together this remembrance of the psychedelic pioneer and wife, confidante, and executrix of the late philosopher Timothy Leary:
Rosemary Woodruff Leary died on February 7 at her home in Aptos, California. The cause of death was congestive heart failure. She was 66 years old.
Rosemary Sarah Woodruff was born in St. Louis, Missouri on April 26, 1935 into a conservative Baptist environment from which she removed herself at the earliest opportunity. She moved to New York City where her intellect, penetrating sense of humor, and extraordinary beauty made her a popular figure in the city’s most progressive music and literary circles. In 1965 Timothy Leary invited her to visit him at the Millbrook Estate in Dutchess County, New York, which members of the Mellon family had made available to Leary as a center for his psychedelic research. That visit began an association between Woodruff and Leary that continued in various forms until Leary’s death in 1996. They married in 1967, and Woodruff Leary participated in his work to change LSD from an instrument of the intellectual elite to a catalyst for wide change in the American psyche.
The Learys and their circle became targets for criminal prosecutions for their work with LSD, and a series of arrests had a serious effect on Woodruff Leary’s life. The Learys were first arrested in Laredo, Texas, in 1965 for possession of a half-ounce marijuana. In 1966 local District Attorney G. Gordon Liddy raided the Millbrook Estate, arresting the Learys for alleged improprieties. The Learys were arrested again for possession of two half-smoked marijuana cigarettes in Laguna Beach, California in 1968. Woodruff Leary was sentenced to six months for the Laguna Beach arrest, but Leary was sentenced to a total of twenty-eight years. In 1970 Woodruff Leary enlisted the Weather Underground to help Leary escape from prison. She later quipped that this should have qualified her for a “Stand By Your Man” award. With forged passports, the Learys fled the country. They sought refuge with Eldridge Cleaver at his Black Panther Embassy in Algiers, but Cleaver placed them under house arrest and the Learys fled to Switzerland.
The pressures on the exiles placed a strain on their marriage, and they separated in 1971 and later divorced. Woodruff Leary, a fugitive for her role in assisting Leary’s escape, lived underground for 23 years in Afghanistan, in Sicily, and in South and Central America, often traveling under a Gary Davis One World passport which local immigration officials solemnly stamped with visas. After her secret return to the United States she lived in relative seclusion on Cape Cod, in San Francisco, and in Half Moon Bay, California, using the name Sarah Woodruff. She remained a fugitive many years longer than Leary, and the charges against her were not cleared until 1994.
In the last years of her life, Woodruff Leary concentrated on managing the trust that administered Leary’s copyrights and archives. She also lectured college students for whom the psychedelic revolution was a historical event that had taken place before they were born. Her natural gifts as a raconteur made her lectures extremely popular. She read with a breadth, speed, and energy (aided by insomnia) which awed her more conventionally educated friends, who learned to lend her stacks of books at a time rather than individual volumes. Woodruff Leary was known for her remarkable and distinctive sense of style. She designed and made much of the clothing she and Leary wore in the late 1960s and her creations inspired the fashion of the era.
Woodruff Leary was in the process of completing the final draft of her memoir at the time of her death. Despite a difficult illness, her keen and original wit continued to amuse an extraordinary number of devoted friends until she died. In addition to her many friends, she is survived by her brother Gary Woodruff of Long Beach, California, and his daughter Katy.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on February 5, 2002