To say that Monique Ribaux Schwartzberg was an independent and adventurous woman would be an understatement.
Her careers and travel took her to remote parts of the world, where she worked alongside doctors, dined with maharajah and maharani, visited tribal villages and historical sites and drove, often alone, across India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and other far-flung places.
Schwartzberg died Dec. 16 of pancreatic cancer. She was 88 and lived in Richfield for the last 10 years of her life.
She was the mother of two sons and grandmother of three and passed along her love of travel to them all, said her son Philip of Minneapolis.
As a youth in Switzerland during World War II, the Geneva native remembered working on a farm during summers and conversing with German soldiers on the other side of the border.
As a young woman, she climbed glaciers to ski back down. She was an equestrian and competed in show jumping.
Discouraged from studying to be a doctor, Schwartzberg became a medical technician instead and worked for the World Health Organization, testing for and treating malaria in India and Afghanistan.
As a Westerner, she was invited to dine with kings and queens and attended cocktail parties with other royalty. She saw Duke Ellington play in a soccer stadium in Afghanistan that was later used by the Taliban for beheadings.
Throughout her travels, she took 8 mm movies, capturing daily rituals of the people, festivals and markets as well as sites such as the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.
In one movie, she and her companion were charged by a wild elephant; in another, the tribespeople of Lambadi performed a fertility dance, and she played back the singing to people who had never seen a tape recorder. Another showed the construction of the Bhadra Dam, with workers carrying huge stones.
Those movies were pulled out often after she and her husband, Joseph, moved to Minneapolis, where he was a professor of South Asian geography at the University of Minnesota. They were watched avidly by her sons and her husband’s students.
She met her husband in India, where he was doing field work. Their son said she happened upon a motorcycle crash involving Joseph Schwartzberg and his assistant, rendered first aid and later realized they were staying at the same guesthouse.
The couple traveled together to Soviet Central Asia, then to Moscow. They were married in Geneva in 1963. They returned to the United States in 1964, first to Philadelphia, then to Minneapolis, where Monique was Joseph’s research assistant on the “Historical Atlas of South Asia,” published in 1978. The couple were later divorced.
In 1979-80, the family spent a year living in India. In other years, they’d take road trips from Geneva through southern France and Spain, across the sea at the Strait of Gibraltar, to the edge of the Sahara and through Algeria and Tunisia.
Back at their home near Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis, she “would do things like build cabinets for our house,” Philip said. “She would get under the car to fix the muffler. The plumbing’s broken, she would fix it herself. Thankfully, she passed that on to me and my brother.”
Later in life, she became a Realtor. She never lost her zeal for travel and adventure.
After her cancer was diagnosed, she chose not to undergo treatment, her son said.
“She’d had a good life,” Philip said. “Had she not had the cancer, she would have gone another 10 years.”
In addition to Philip, Schwartzberg also is survived by son Paul of Eugene, Ore., and her three grandchildren. A gathering will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. Jan. 8 in the party room at City Bella, 6600 Lyndale Av. S., in Richfield.