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Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler

1924 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler Obituary
ALTSHULER, Ruth Collins Sharp Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler, pillar of charitable and civic efforts in Dallas, died December 8 at UT Southwestern Medical Center after suffering complications from a hip fracture. She was 93. Her father, Carr P. Collins, founded Fidelity Union Life Insurance and reshaped the 1950s Dallas skyline with the construction of the company's headquarters. Her brother Jim Collins was a powerful U.S. Congressman who represented Dallas from 1968 to 1983. Her sister-in-law Calvert Collins was the first woman elected to the Dallas City Council. But it was Ruth Altshuler, the twice-widowed mother of three, who left an indelible imprint on the soul of her beloved city. Born March 10, 1924, Ruth was raised in a stately home on Swiss Avenue. After graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School she attended Southern Methodist University. Her junior year, Ruth married Lt. Bleecker P. Seaman Jr., a Naval Academy graduate. Eighteen months after they wed, Bleecker died when his plane was shot down over Tokyo. In 1947, she married Charles Sharp, a naval officer who later became an executive with Fidelity Union. They had three children, Sally, Stanton, and Susan. In 1956, Charles was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Ruth stoically cared for him until his death 28 years later. In 1987, she married Dr. Kenneth Altshuler, Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center. They enjoyed a long marriage filled with happiness and humor, celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary just two days before she died. Ruth was one of the most tireless and effective volunteers and civic leaders Dallas has ever seen. Through her decades of philanthropic work, she raised millions for area charities. Dallas is known as the "Can-do City." But Ruth helped make sure that those who could did. Her civic mandate, issued with an extended index finger, was, "Do it!" And they always did. Upon her death, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said, "What she did for this city can never be fully comprehended," and called her, "one of the strongest people in Dallas' history." Ruth contributed to the Dallas community in countless ways. At 88, she agreed to accept the daunting task of organizing the city's ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. She pulled it off in stunning fashion. She hosted annual food drives in her driveway to benefit organizations including the North Texas Food Bank, bought air-conditioners for local shut-ins, and helped raise more than $600,000 for the children of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer shot by Lee Harvey Oswald just hours after JFK's assassination. Ruth's commitment to helping others can be traced to her philanthropic parents and her membership in the Dallas Junior League. In the 1950s, as a new member of the league, she toured facilities like Parkland Hospital, the Salvation Army, Goodwill, and the Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind. "It was as if I walked through a door into a whole new world," she said. "Once I saw what needed to be done out there, I've never been comfortable since." On September 6, 2017, more than 1,200 people gave Ruth a standing ovation at a United Way luncheon in her honor. Ruth told the crowd about her defining upbringing. In 1918, her father stood in front of the congregation of First Baptist Dallas and pledged $5,000 to the church. "Mother was just gasping," Ruth said. "She was crying all the way home on the streetcar. 'Where are you going to get that kind of money? We don't have a dime!' My father said, 'I'm going to go to the bank tomorrow and borrow it.' I was brought up in a home where your father would go to the bank to borrow money to give to the church." In addition to raising millions of dollars, Ruth donated millions of her own. She served as chairs of both the Carr P. Collins Foundation and the Sharp Foundation. She helped SMU's students by creating the innovative Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center and helped recognize the university's outstanding faculty by establishing the Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor Award. The Ruth Collins Sharp Drama Building in the Meadows School of the Arts was named in her honor. For nearly 50 years she served as an SMU trustee and was the university's first female board chair. Ruth's lifetime of service was filled with many firsts. She was the first woman to serve on a grand jury in Dallas, the one that indicted Jack Ruby for killing Lee Harvey Oswald. She was the first woman on the board of First Republic Bank of Dallas. She was the first woman elected Chairman of the Executive Board of Highland Park United Methodist Church, and first female Chairman of the Board of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. She was the first lifetime member elected to the National Salvation Army Advisory Board, and was a founding board member of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation. She was also the first woman to serve as a board member of the Salvation Army of Dallas, Goodwill Industries, and the Dallas Citizens Council. Ruth founded the Dallas chapter of the United Way's Alexis de Tocqueville Society. She co-founded the Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, was president of the Junior League of Dallas, president of the Visiting Nurses Association, vice-chair of the Southwestern Medical Foundation, and a life trustee of the Hockaday School. She was a board member and lifelong champion of the Dallas Summer Musicals. She served as chair of the Communities Foundation of Texas, KERA, and the Salvation Army of Dallas. She served on the Board of Visitors of UT Southwestern Medical Center. President George W. Bush appointed Ruth to the Library of Congress Trust and she served on the board of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries. Upon her death, the President and former First Lady remarked, "Ruth taught us the lessons of philanthropy, service, and friendship. She was charming, humble, talented, generous, and funny. We loved being with her, and we will miss her." In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell named her to the United States Commission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In 2011, she became the first person in the U.S. to receive all three national service honorsthe Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year Award from the National Society of Fundraising Executives, the national Alexis de Tocqueville Award of the United Way of America, and the Distinguished Service Award given by the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. She was one of three life members of the Salvation Army's National Advisory Board. Ruth had a remarkable way of being poignant and funny at the same time and loved to tell tales about herself. Quick-witted and spontaneous, she once began a speaking engagement by saying, "I have been sitting on this dais between Jenny Craig and Miss America, and I've been buttering my bread under the table." Her accounts of her job at a tuna cannery during WW II sounded like an episode of "I Love Lucy". She told the Dallas Morning News about working night shifts for Delta Air Lines after the death of her first husband. She flagged in planes, told baggage handlers how many pieces of luggage to load, and went over weather reports with pilots. "One day, I was sitting at the Teletype machine when it came across: 'Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima today.' I tossed it aside and said, 'Get that out of here. I need the weather report for Shreveport!' Ruth dedicated her long life to serving others and inspired others to do the same. Toward the end of her life she ended every speech with her favorite quote by Albert Schweitzer, "Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing." Ruth is preceded in death by her parents, Ruth and Carr P. Collins, and brothers, Jim Collins and Carr P. Collins Jr. She is survived by her husband, Dr. Kenneth Altshuler of Dallas; her daughter Sally Sharp Harris and Sally's husband, Fred Harris, of Great Barrington, Mass.; her son, Charles Stanton Sharp Jr. of Dallas; her daughter Susan Sharp and Susan's husband, Jason Weisman, of Dallas; six grandchildren, Elena Jacobson, Lucas Jacobson, Peter Jacobson, Michelle McAdam, Carr McAdam, and Chance McAdam; and two great-grandchildren, Nico de Leonardis, and Quinn Jacobson. Ruth's memorial service was held on December 14 at Highland Park United Methodist Church. Donations can be made to the Salvation Army or the . salvationarmydfw.org
Published in Dallas Morning News on Dec. 17, 2017
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