FRANCES DITTMER
1941 - 2014
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DITTMER--Frances "Frannie" Ronshausen, died February 5 in Mexico when the small charter plane on which she was sole passenger crashed en route from Puerto Vallarta to Careyes, where she owned a house and visited often. She was 72. The pilot, Alberto Navarro, also perished. A longtime former resident of Chicago and latterly of Aspen, Colorado, Mrs. Dittmer was a philanthropist and collector admired in preeminent art circles and beloved by family and friends of all stripes. "She was a force behind some of the most important institutions in this country," said Philippe Vergne, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. "Frannie's impact on our museum and museums across the country has been profound," said Aspen Art Museum Co-Presidents John Phelan and Paul Schoor. "We could count on Frannie to speak her mind and make sure we took the right direction. Her leadership, vision, and friendship will always be treasured, and we already miss her and her infectious laugh." And said James Rondeau, Dittmer Chair and Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, "She was incisive and discerning, generous and glamorous, a radiant personality with a devilish sense of humor." Blonde and statuesque, Frannie was stylishly self-possessed, plainspoken, and prone to call a spade a shovel. She talkedand laughedwith a lilting twang that she never tried to lose, but it was the laugh that was her trademark. An exuberant and unmistakable chortle, it was audible from astonishing distances and once heard, was not forgotten. Born and raised in Port Arthur, Texas, she was a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and a Kappa Kappa Gamma. From 1964 to 66 she worked on Capitol Hill as personal secretary to Democratic Texas Senator "Smilin'" Ralph Yarborough, an extraordinary responsibility for someone in her early 20s. In Washington she caught the eye of Thomas Dittmer, a young lieutenant in the fabled Third Infantry and a White House Social Aide. In 1966, Frannie and Tom married and moved to Chicago, where they raised a family, built a business, and collected art. When Tom and stepfather founded R.E. Friedman commodities firm Refco in 1969, Frannie became one of the company's first five employees. Refco's success grew exponentially, and Frannie cultivated her passion and keen eye for art. In 1979 she met Sotheby's Vice Chairman Anthony Grant, then a young associate in contemporary art, and the two began a lifelong journey. Through the years the collection evolved and changed from Modern masters such as Pablo Picasso and Fernand Leger, to post war giants Willem DeKooning and Jackson Pollock, to the art of our time by Cy Twombly, Brice Marden, and Christoper Wool. Concurrently Frannie also built a world class portfolio at Refco, with Adam Brooks as curator. Grounded in contemporary photography and in the works of master printmakers such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, the collection was preserved after Tom sold the company to private shareholders in 1999. The Dittmers were involved in numerous Chicago civic and arts organizations, including the Chicago Lyric Opera and Providence St. Mel School, but Frannie's heart lay most fondly with the visual arts. In addition to her AIC trusteeship, she and Tom endowed there the Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair of Modern and Contemporary Art. She was also a life trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago where, together with Tom, she was one of six board members seminal to fundraising for that institution's expansion in 1991, leading to the first major museum building in Chicago in 65 years. Throughout her life, Frannie participated substantively in many of the nation's most prestigious arts organizations, including in New York the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney, the Drawing Center, Dia Art Foundation, the Menil collection in Houston, and the Aspen Art Museum. Her magnanimity extended to animals, dogs in particular, and she supported a number of shelters and rescue organizations. Her cherished Chihuahuas once graced the cover of the Aspen Animal Shelter calendar, which made her immensely proud. Generous as well in their spirited entertaining of friends and associates, the Dittmers hosted famously creative and occasionally lavish parties. Her houses were always comfortable and beautifully designed, befitting her longtime collaboration and friendship and with designer David Easton. Not everyone knew she had her pilot's license and played the piano by ear, but her reputation as a football aficionada and Bears fan was well established. In the early days she and Tom played flag football with friends, and she was invariably the first one picked. "She was a master of the quick kick," Tom boasts. "And hell, she could throw the ball 50 yards." More recently her children recall their fashionably clad mother loping across the lawn in Hermes sandals, manicured nails rasping on the pigskin as she threw perfectly spiraling passes to her grandsons. In 1994, as winds of business and finance shifted, the Dittmers left Chicago for New York, and after 33 years of marriage the formidable couple went their separate ways, divorcing amicably in 1999. Frannie moved permanently to Aspen, where they had long had a second home and where she was, not surprisingly, active in the community. The family nonetheless remained close and often spent holidays together. Surviving are son Jason and his wife Allison of Park City, Utah; grandsons Casey and Jesse; daughter Alexis Gaughan and her husband Chris of Santa Monica, California; and Chris's daughters Casey and Peyton. A sister, Marilyn, and her husband Warren "Dutch" Holland, live in Durango, Colorado. Frannie also counted as family Matthew Morris, who for 25 years faithfully headed her household staff. The family respectfully suggests that gifts in Frannie's memory go to a charity of the giver's choice. Afternoon services will be held both in Aspen on Wednesday, February 19, in Aspen, and in Chicago on Friday, February 21, details to be announced.


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Published in New York Times on Feb. 13, 2014.
Memories & Condolences
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41 entries
March 3, 2014
Thoughts and prayers are with the Dittmer family. She was a wonderful woman and she will be greatly missed.
Paul Marturano
February 27, 2014
Thanks to you, and your former husband, I was given a chance to pursue a career on the Chicago Board of Trade. You will always be remembered by me as a caring and genuine person, and the world lost one of it's great people.
Joseph Durante
February 25, 2014
I always loved to be near Frannie when we were doing things in our church. I loved her wonderful sense of humor and her joy for life. How sad it is to loose her.
Susan Pearson
February 21, 2014
The world is less without Frannie, my high school buddy. I loved her.
Doris Teel
February 21, 2014
Her smile and laugh will be forever remembered...a beautiful soul that made friends wherever she went. God bless Frannie and her dear family!
Maria and Bill Smithburg
February 20, 2014
Frannie will be sorely missed by all of her long time Texas and Washington friends.
Ardon Judd (Houston TX)
February 20, 2014
Tom and family, what a tragic loss. Frannie was a kind, smart, beautiful lady who always remembered her old friends. She will forever have a special place in our hearts. We will miss her. May peace be with you.
Jon & Terry Hampton
February 20, 2014
We are deeply sorry to hear about the death of Frannie. So many wonderful memories together will always be a cherished gift. R.I.P.
peter & cathy ca.
February 20, 2014
Dear Tom, I am so sorry to hear about Frannie. She was a wonderful woman and a force in the art world. I still remember meeting her in '78 when I was clerking for Refco. I will never forget it. So sorry for your and your family's loss.
Phil Burnstine
February 19, 2014
A tragic loss for so many. While I had not spoken with Frannie in many years, my memories are as vivid as if it were yesterday.
My parents were always very close with Tom and Frannie. They would come over to our house and while Tom and my dad were sitting on the porch smoking cigars, have a beverage or two and of course talking the markets, Frannie would be in the back yard playing football with my sisters and me. She was so tough.
We are all lucky to have been touched by her. God Bless.
Rick Boerke
February 18, 2014
Dittmer -
An unbelievably tragic and heartbreaking loss. Sympathy and condolences to you, Jason, and Alexis.
With much sadness,
Sherman
February 17, 2014
One of a kind gal. Just damn fabulous!
Babe
February 17, 2014
Dear Jason and Dittmer family,It breaks my heart to hear this news, even though I never met your mom Frannie, we did hear a lot about her from Scott. He said she was a wonderful woman. What a loss and how sad a time this is. I met Jason (through our son Scott when they were at school together) May wonderful memories bring you joy and may God bring you peace. Prayers to all. Gail, Ron, Scott and Ron Jr Celentano.
Gail Celentano
February 17, 2014
Mrs. D, You will forever be in our hearts. Thank you for having made this world and my life a brighter place. Rest in peace.
Charles McLimans
February 17, 2014
I spent almost 20 years working at REFCO and Tom and Frannie were the best ever to work for. My condolence to Tom, Jason and Alexis. She was a wonderful woman. Ray and Helen Lacy
Ray & Helen Lacy
February 14, 2014
I knew the Dittmers' as a child and young man at the CME. In fact it was the Dittmerd' that helped me start my own career. Many a time I would wash their cars and be compensated not only with money, but cookies, sandwiches , and life advice from Mrs. Dittmer, who always told me to call her "Frannie". As a grown man I truly appreciate how special Mrs. Dittmer was, while showing me artworks and incredible pieces in her home, you could see the joy in her face, teaching me about what these pieces meant, to her personally, and to society. I vividly remeber my father saying time to go, and Mrs. Dittmer ( who called my father "peaches"), would say with the warmest of twangs. Now peaches will you please let this boy finish his cookies and conversation with me. Every conversation with her was a pleasure. My whole heart saddens for the Dittmer family, what a terrible loss. Just remember her legacy lives on in all of you, and all of the people she touched. Rest in Peace. Although cliché, they truly don't make them like her anymore. That little boy inside me shall never forget your kindness.
Scott Kohl
February 14, 2014
Dearest Dittmer Family.
My thoughts are with you all.I am so sorry a huge lose to all.
Susie Rowatt
Susie Rowatt Clemens
February 14, 2014
Jill and Jason skiing near "Janet's Cabin", 2012
Dear Dittmers,
It breaks my heart to hear this news, even though I never met Frannie. What a loss and how sad a time this is. I met Jason (through mutual friend, Marla Covey) in Colorado and judging by her son and nothing else, I can tell Frannie was a great woman. May fond memories bring you joy and may God bring you peace. My prayers are with you all. Jill
Jill Wanous
February 14, 2014
To all of Frannie's family,We are very sad to learn that one of the most generous, fun and dynamic women we have ever met has died! A great loss for you all and for everyone & organization lucky enough to have called her their friend!!
Jane & Reed Eberly
February 14, 2014
Dear Dittmers, I am feeling deep sorrow at this time. Frannie is to this day a bright light in my mind. I see her smiling face frequently when viewing family slides with Fay. The Pecks and Dittmers had lots of fun together in Aspen and Lake Forest. Those times will always be remembered with great fondness for Frannie and your family.
Sincerely,
David Peck
David Peck
February 14, 2014
Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. We are very sorry.
Frank & Tina Aiello and family
frank aiello
February 14, 2014
Tom, Jason, and Alexis- my deepest sympathy on the tragic passing of Frannie! She was a class act in every way possible. Fond memories of Vikings Hockey and trips to Texas! Jim Ferguson Lake Forest Il
February 13, 2014
We played football together on the Matlocks' lawn. She and Carol Holter were stars, I loved to play with them. She always won at Monopoly. We played 4 Horses basketball in her backyard while eating pecans that fell from the trees.
Judy Bonnell
February 13, 2014
Tom, Jason, Alexis and grandchildren - remember wounded deer leap the highest - show how you too, can at this time ....LEAP.
Lovely tribute Frances ~
Emily and Mark Kobilca
Emily Kobilca
February 13, 2014
Since our weekend on the shore of Lake Tahoe with Tom and Frannie in the early 70's we will never forget Frannie's love of nature and it's beauty. She was a wonderful person, never to be forgotten!
Paul & Gail Watson
February 13, 2014
And She could REALLY REALLY shoot a Potato Gun !!.Her laugh would resonate all over Woods Lake..We all knew when Frannie was on Her Boat. .REady, Aim Fire.. JOY.. Annie Denver
February 13, 2014
She was a Force..Bigger than Life..the most wonderful, generous friend..Beautiful..inside and out..I am forever grateful that she graced so many lives in so many ways..She Had the Magic and The Sparkle and the Substance..AND we all get to carry the Love that was Frannie..Annie Denver
February 13, 2014
I am so sorry for the sudden loss. May the God of all comfort bring you peace at this time. "And he will wipe out every tear from your eyes."
Long Island, NY
February 12, 2014
All of us at BOMB are sending sympathy and love to Frannie's family. She will remain one of the all time greats and will be so very missed. Betsy Sussler
Betsy Sussler
February 12, 2014
My sincere condolences to the entire Family.
Christine C
February 10, 2014
The best boss any Butler could have hoped for; I will sadly mourn her loss

Ian Barber
Ian Barber
February 10, 2014
The world has lost some of it's sparkle.
Anne Hokin
February 9, 2014
Frannie was one of a kind: piercing intelligence, lusty and robust wit, suffered no fools yet warm and welcoming. She knew how to connect to people and to art in disarmingly direct ways. I had the privilege of working with her in the late 1980s when I led the Aspen Art Museum and she was among our most generous supporters. Last summer we caught up during a long, tears- and laughter-filled afternoon's visit, and I was reminded how very unique the power that was Frannie is. What a loss! My condolences to all in her immediate and extended family.
Annette Carlozzi
February 8, 2014
Frances Dittmer--the epitome of grace. What a beautiful soul.
Jean Yangas
February 8, 2014
I had the privilege of working for Mrs. Dittmer in 1989-1990. She was a very smart, talented and interesting woman. Her love of art knew no bounds back then, and she taught me a lot about modern art. My condolences to her family. She will be greatly missed.
Margie Sillery
February 8, 2014
When THD and I would come in from a late night in NYC, and we were deep into tequila and cigars, out of her bed down the stairs would come Frannie in her robe....she wanted to talk, laugh and smile, she wante dto make me (and eveyone else) feel welcome....she was a wonderful person who went out of her way to make me feel as a part of the family...I have so many kind memories of her....her loss is truly a tragedy. My heart goes out to the whole family.
C S
February 7, 2014
One life can make a profound difference. Although I only met and became acquainted with Frances for one weekend (my daughter's wedding), her enthusiasm, heart, and laughter impacted me. I will always remember her.
Rev. Gene Hill
February 7, 2014
The wonderful memories will always be with us.
Trish & John Stimpson
February 7, 2014
I will always miss you and cherish the times we shared
Jame Carney
February 7, 2014
With our love to someone who made us and our children feel warm, loved, and always a part of the family
Arty and Roseanne Nielsen
February 7, 2014
I knew Frances when I was a child when her and Mr. Dittmer were married. I remember her as kind and gentle. My thoughts are with her family.
Arden Nielsen JR.
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