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Ruth Altshuler, dies at 93

Ruth Altshuler, a pillar of charitable and civic efforts in Dallas, dies at 93

Original Article From Dallas News veiwable here: bit.ly/2yfQuOe

Ruth Altshuler, whose legendary organizing and fundraising prowess earned her the respect and ready cooperation of North Texas' most powerful people, died Friday night. She was 93. A philanthropic dynamo and trusted overseer of many a civic project, Altshuler was known for her elegance, quiet confidence and signature laugh.

"All she did for this city," Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Saturday, "can never be fully measured or comprehended. One of the strongest women, one of the strongest people, in Dallas' history." Altshuler fell and broke her hip in October, according to a family spokeswoman. She died at UT Southwestern Medical Center after suffering complications from that injury.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at Highland Park United Methodist Church, 3300 Mockingbird Lane. A reception will follow at the Umphrey Lee Center at SMU in the Martha Proctor Mack Ballroom. Both will be open to the public.

"Life has not been wasted on me, that's for sure," Altshuler said in 2013. "I've just been fortunate to meet all these interesting people in all these interesting situations."

Driven by a devotion to her native Dallas, she would meet four U.S. presidents — Ronald Reagan, both Bushes and Barack Obama — and help raise millions of dollars for charitable causes and organizations such as the Salvation Army, Communities Foundation of Texas, Southwestern Medical Foundation, Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, Dallas Summer Musicals and Laura Bush's Foundation for America's Libraries.

"She was a leader for women, and her life was the story of Dallas in so many ways," said the former first lady, a longtime friend. "She was humble, she was funny, she loved to laugh and she was an extraordinary fundraiser."

In a life marked by philanthropy, however, her defining public service project may have been taking on the task — at age 88 — of organizing the city's ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

"One of the great untold stories of our city is that of the great matriarchs of Dallas," the mayor said, adding that Altshuler "was at the top of that list."


Raised in a stately Swiss Avenue mansion, Altshuler was the youngest child of Fidelity Union Life Insurance founder Carr Collins and his wife, Ruth. A graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, she and her two brothers were shielded from the Great Depression's effects by her family's relative abundance. Her brother Jim Collins was a U.S. congressman from 1968-1983. He died in 1989.

As a junior at Southern Methodist University, she met and married a Navy pilot, Lt. Bleecker P. Seaman Jr. Barely two years later, his plane was downed in a World War II bombing raid over Tokyo, leaving Altshuler a widow before age 21.

She took a job at Dallas Love Field, taking tickets, overseeing baggage operations and even guiding planes into their gates.

Shortly thereafter, she met her second husband, Charles Sharp, a law student and Navy man who would count Kennedy among the young officers he trained to command PT boats while assigned to a naval shipyard in Rhode Island.

The two married in 1947. Daughter Sally was born two years later and son Stanton a few years after that. Another daughter, Susan, was born in 1960.

'You can't go back'

A turning point in Altshuler's life came when, in 1949, she joined the Junior League, a women's civic organization, and was exposed to a different Dallas than she'd ever witnessed at places like Parkland Memorial Hospital, Goodwill Industries and Lighthouse for the Blind.

"I saw people I'd never seen before, and I saw sadness, misery and desperation," she told The News about her time volunteering at Parkland. "Once you see this, you can't go back."

Charity work became her fuel, even as her husband's Parkinson's disease diagnosis took a toll. She would become the first woman to chair the local boards of agencies such as the United Way and Salvation Army. "We all try to balance our lives," said Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach, an active philanthropist. "Ruth always took so much less than she gave. ... She is one of the finest people I've met in my life."

Laura Bush said what made Altshuler so successful at encouraging others to give was that she was so generous herself. Every year, she'd send postcards to her friends, asking them to bring bags of food to her home to help her stock Dallas food banks before Thanksgiving.

When she asked others to give to a charitable cause, people would, Bush said, because "everyone wanted to please Ruth."

Altshuler's commitment to and mastery of fundraising was unquestioned.

She launched efforts to buy TVs and air conditioners for shut-ins, hosted yearly Thanksgiving food drives in her driveway and helped raise more than $600,000 for the children of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer shot by Lee Harvey Oswald hours after Kennedy's assassination.

Her second husband died in 1984. In 1987, she married physician Kenneth Altshuler.

According to the Texas State History Museum Foundation, Ruth Altshuler was honored for her service by organizations including the Texas House of Representatives, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Society of Fundraising Executives, the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities and the International Junior League.

John Mikles, who first met Altshuler in 1981 when he was the Texas divisional commander for Salvation Army, remembers her as being a "presence larger than life." She was just as comfortable sitting among billionaires as she was the poor, he said, and they were just as comfortable with her.

"She made everyone feel comfortable through her warmth and her humor," Mikles said. "She ingratiated herself to crowds of the upper class, the middle class or the lower class." Altshuler was the longest serving member of SMU's Board of Trustees at 49 years and was the first female chairman of the board.

"She really has been at the heart of everything we've been able to achieve at SMU over all these years," said President R. Gerald Turner. "In the last 20 years, we haven't done any major project in the community without Ruth's fingerprints on it."

She was committed to helping students succeed and rewarding outstanding teachers, Turner said. The Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center was named after her and her husband because of their financial support, he said.

Altshuler's daughter, Sally Harris, said she considers herself blessed to have had a mother who was wonderful both on a grand scale and a very personal level. Altshuler couldn't cook, didn't play any sports and didn't really have hobbies, but she was "fantastically driven" to make a change in the world, Harris said. "She was enormously purposeful and incredibly fun," Harris said. "[Her philanthropy] wasn't so much duty but purpose. She was a very inspired person."

She lived by the words from her favorite quote, from Nobel-prize winning theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer: "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing."

Altshuler is preceded in death by her parents, Ruth and Carr P. Collins, and brothers Jim Collins and Carr P. Collins II. She is survived by her husband, Dr. Kenneth Altshuler of Dallas; her daughter Sally Harris and her husband Fred Harris of Great Barrington, Mass.; her son Charles Stanton Sharp Jr. of Dallas; her daughter Susan Sharp and partner Jason Weisman of Dallas; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Writen by Claire Ballor, Joe Simnacher and Robert Wilonsky contributed to this report.

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