The SMU community celebrated the life of civic and philanthropic leader Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler ’48, former chair of the SMU Board of Trustees, on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. Altshuler died Dec. 8.
As a leader, Altshuler was known for her intelligence, decisiveness, legendary fundraising skills and sense of humor. As a result, she became the first woman to lead numerous Dallas boards and organizations, including the Board of Trustees of her alma mater, SMU. Education, health and services for some of the most downtrodden members of society were areas that attracted her support, but her generosity touched nearly every Dallas civic organization. Her influence, however, went far beyond Dallas. Altshuler was recognized nationally and internationally as a dedicated civic leader and philanthropist.
“The loss of Ruth leaves a major hole in the hearts of us all,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner. “Ruth was my dear friend as well as a tireless fighter for SMU and all causes she believed in. She didn’t do anything halfway. Her work on behalf of Dallas and SMU was legendary years ago, and yet she continued to lead and inspire us year after year. Her impact on her city and her University will live on forever.”
“Ruth was a wonderful member of the SMU Board of Trustees. She was high energy and full of enthusiasm in everything she did to help make SMU a leading global university,” said Michael M. Boone ’63, ’67, SMU Board of Trustees chair. “As a civic leader, Ruth fell into that special category known as the best of the best. The SMU community will miss her dearly.”
A Dallas native and 1948 SMU graduate, Altshuler served on the SMU Board of Trustees for 50 years. She brought knowledge and understanding of every aspect of University life to her position, along with a great love of SMU.
Altshuler has served on nearly every board or council at SMU, including individual schools, libraries, lecture series and search committees. She served on the executive boards of six out of SMU’s seven schools, as well as the executive boards of SMU’s libraries, Willis M. Tate Distinguished Lecture Series and the Maguire Ethics Center. In Altshuler’s 50 years of leadership, she worked with six SMU presidents, and helped select two of them as a member of the presidential search committees which appointed Dr. R. Gerald Turner and Dr. James H. Zumberge.
“I talked to Ruth almost every day,” said Brad Cheves, vice president for development and external affairs at SMU. “She was fully committed to this University — offering advice and counsel on all manner of topics. But ultimately what she was most committed to was helping get things done. It was never about Ruth; it was always about others and how she could help them accomplish more than they may have thought they could.”
Her understanding of SMU’s strengths and challenges led to intentional and thoughtful leadership and giving, benefitting student achievement and faculty teaching and research. The projects she supported were varied, but all struck a personal chord. They ranged from endowing business professorships in honor of brothers James M. Collins and Carr P. Collins, to providing research funds for history professors in honor of her son, history buff Charles Stanton Sharp, Jr. She and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Z. Altshuler, endowed the Altshuler Learning Enhancement Center because of their interest in supporting the achievements of young people. In addition, she supported the Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professors Award, which annually honors four professors for their notable commitment to fostering student learning, as well as endowing lecture series, scholarships and facilities for areas ranging from athletics to arts to academics.
Altshuler received nearly every award SMU offers, including the 2011 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics award, presented by SMU’s Cary Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility to individuals who exemplify the spirit of moral leadership and public virtue, and the 1966 Distinguished Alumni Award. With her husband, Kenneth, the Altshulers were presented the 1998 Mustang Award for extraordinary philanthropy to the University.
The family asks that instead of flowers, donations be made in her honor to the Salvation Army.
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