Ruth Chickering Clusen, 82, an environmentalist and longtime League of Women Voters member who hosted the 1976 presidential debates and served in the Jimmy Carter administration, died Monday at a hospice in Bellevue, Wis.
Clusen attained national prominence when she moderated the televised debates between Carter and Gerald Ford during the 1976 presidential campaign. The first nationally televised presidential debates since 1960 made her so recognizable that she was spoofed by Lily Tomlin on “Saturday Night Live.”
A native of Bruce, Wis., Clusen graduated from the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire with a degree in education. She worked for many years as a teacher before becoming Wisconsin president of the League of Women Voters in 1962 and national president in 1974. As national president, she led the league’s efforts to win passage of the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act.
She later served as assistant secretary for the environment in the U.S. Department of Energy from 1978 to 1981. She oversaw a program on alternative fuels and wrote a book on the meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear reactor in Harrisburg, Pa.