Ruth O'Connor Fisher is the widow of Nathaniel Fisher Sr. and mother of three.
Ruth married Nathaniel Fisher in 1965 after becoming pregnant with her first child, Nate, who was born while Nathaniel was serving in Vietnam. Four years later she gave birth to another son, David. Their third and final child, Claire, was born much later, in 1983. Trapped in a maternal role at a young age, Ruth felt resentment toward her younger sister Sarah, an artist who Ruth sees as a free spirit. This was worsened by an incident in which her son Nate lost his virginity while under his aunt Sarah's supervision; Ruth and Sarah were estranged for years afterward.
Shortly before the series begins, Ruth has an affair with her hairdresser, Hiram Gunderson, who takes her camping. After Nathaniel's sudden death, she calls off the affair to mourn but rekindles the relationship months later. Seeing as her responsibilities as a housewife are now relieved, Ruth takes a job at a flower shop where the owner Nikolai becomes infatuated with her. Hiram then breaks up with Ruth and she begins seeing Nikolai. Their relationship ends when Nikolai is robbed and beaten by a Russian mob and Ruth offers to pay off his debt. Ruth ends their relationship when she realizes Nikolai has been feeling suffocated by her attentions and has only been staying with her out of guilt.
Ruth finds herself at odds with the women in Nate's life, and also has strained relations with her own children most of the time. Ruth finds comfort in her granddaughter Maya after Nate's death and starts a friendship with a new friend Bettina, Sarah's caretaker.
During her daughter-in-law's disappearance, Ruth struggles with her emotions and her self-imposed role of matriarch-in-control. During this time, she meets and marries geologist George Sibley after only six weeks of courtship. Ruth discovers unpleasant facts about her new husband's past, including multiple wives and an estranged son. Over time, George becomes increasingly paranoid, particularly with beliefs regarding an inevitable nuclear apocalypse, forcing Ruth to admit him for treatments including electro-convulsive therapy. Finding it hard to deal with his subsequent memory loss and emotional instability, Ruth decides to set George up with a life separate from hers before eventually divorcing him.
After Nate Jr's death, Ruth decides she needs a change in her life and moves in with her sister and Bettina. She also lets George know she wants them to remain social (but not to remarry), ends a schism between herself and Brenda, and signs over Claire's full inheritance to her from a trust fund. Ruth dies in 2025, at the age of 79, of old age at a hospital with George and her surviving children at her bedside.
Ruth tends to keep her emotions bottled away and assume a subservient role; growing up, Ruth was obliged to serve as caretaker for her crippled grandmother, who was verbally abusive. Ruth dresses plainly and is often considered "out of touch" and naive by others, frequently taking people at face value. Ruth can be seen as aloof, as she rarely knows what is going on in her children's lives and has stated this problem on several occasions. Her repressed emotions often cause her to have angry outbursts in reaction to her family.