Muir scholar Ronald Limbaugh, 85, was a champion of history and the environment

Ronald Limbaugh

Ronald Limbaugh

Ronald Limbaugh, a renaissance man, professor of history and internationally acclaimed expert on the life of famed naturalist John Muir, died Aug. 13 at the age of 85.

He is recalled by colleagues at Pacific as a nature lover and environment champion, in addition to having a commanding presence in classroom settings.

His 34 years at Pacific includes time as professor of history, director of Holt-Atherton Pacific Center for Western Studies, and director of the John Muir Center for Regional Studies, where he specialized in the history of the environment, California and mining.

“In the late 60s, one of John Muir’s granddaughters contacted Ron about the papers of Yosemite icon Muir,” recalled Mike Wurtz, head of university special collections and archives, and associate professor. “Soon, he was backing up his station wagon to the door of the UC Berkeley Library and loading the Muir Papers to come to Pacific.

“With this acquisition, Ron put the Pacific Archives on the map. Later, he started the Muir Center with its symposia, classes and newsletters that made Pacific THE home for all things Muir – a legacy that Pacific will celebrate for generations.”

Limbaugh had recently been in failing health after suffering a fall doing what he was passionate about his entire life: working outside in his yard.

His daughter Sally Limbaugh Buck reflected on Limbaugh’s love for all things outdoors in a passage in the obituary she wrote:

“In his lifetime, Ron transformed his yard into a wine producing vineyard, a vegetable garden and a drought tolerant haven for birds and insects,” she wrote. “He built a 30-foot-long underground wine cellar that doubled as a walk-in bomb shelter and an acoustic echo chamber for his classical records.”

Limbaugh grew up in a poor family in New Plymouth, Idaho, and received his bachelor's and master’s degrees and PhD from the University of Idaho.

He then met and married Marilyn Rice, and he moved to California to be closer to her family. He joined University of the Pacific for a distinguished career teaching history.

Ken Albala, a professor of history colleague, recalls Limbaugh as a prodigious author who penned hundreds of scholarly papers. He added that he has “scions (young plant shoots) of Ron’s vineyard still in my backyard, and I still make wine out of them.”

Limbaugh is survived by Marilyn, his wife of 60 years, daughter Sally Limbaugh Buck, son-in law Robb Buck and granddaughter Penryn Buck.

He was a member of numerous non-profit organizations and environmental charities. To honor Limbaugh, the family asks that donations be sent to The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association or Plan International USA.

At his request, there will be no public service.