Altshuler, Ruth Elaine Collins Sharp (1924–2017)


By: Camila Ordorica Bracamontes

Type: Biography

Published: October 25, 2021

Updated: December 22, 2021


Ruth Elaine Collins Sharp Altshuler, Texan philanthropist and civic leader, was born on March 10, 1924, in Dallas, Texas. She was the youngest child of Carr Pritchett Collins, Sr., and Elza Ruth (Woodall) Collins. She grew up in a prominent family—her father founded Fidelity Union Life Insurance, and her two older brothers, James Mitchell Collins and Carr Pritchett Collins, Jr., achieved distinction as a Republican congressman and a diplomat, respectively. She graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, where she was active on the student council, in theater, and the Press Club. She attended Southern Methodist University (SMU) and graduated in 1948. During World War II, she also worked at a tuna cannery and later for Delta Air Lines. Ruth Collins married U. S. Navy pilot Lt. Bleecker P. Seaman, Jr., on July 20, 1943, when she was a junior in college. Only eighteen months later, in February 1945, she was widowed when his plane was shot down over Tokyo. On June 21, 1947, she married Charles Sharp, a law student and U. S. Navy officer, who later worked for Fidelity Union. They had three children: Sally, Stanton, and Susan. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease fairly early into their marriage, Charles Sharp died in 1984. Ruth married physician Kenneth Altshuler on December 5, 1987.

Ruth Altshuler began her philanthropical work in 1949 when she joined the Junior League, a woman’s civic organization that exposed her to people struggling to meet their basic needs. This experience “ignited an enduring passion to strengthen her community through purposeful work.” Called the “most influential woman in Dallas,”  Altshuler was characterized by having achieved many firsts. She was the first woman to serve on a grand jury in Dallas, the first woman on the boards of First Republic Bank of Dallas, Salvation Army of Dallas, Goodwill Industries, and the Dallas Citizens Council. She was the first woman elected chair of the executive board of Highland Park United Methodist Church and the board of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas. She was also the first female chair of SMU’s Board of Trustees and later its longest serving member with nearly fifty years of service.

Throughout her life, Altshuler raised money for organizations such as Communities Foundation of Texas (which she chaired), Southwestern Medical Foundation (as vice chair), Dallas Children's Advocacy Center, Dallas Summer Musicals, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Society of Fundraising Executives, the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities, and the International Junior League. She donated funds for the construction of the Gerald J. Ford Stadium at SMU, and for the Laura Bush Library Foundation. In 1992, after the organization announced that it would suffer cuts of 10 percent each year, she donated one million dollars to the United Way of Dallas. Her gift was the largest donation in the history of the agency and effectively reduced the damage to the agency. 

With her husband Ken Altshuler, she supported the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center by establishing the Stanton Sharp Distinguished Chair in Psychiatry, the Ruth & Ken Altshuler Fund for Clinical Psychiatry, and the Kenneth Z. Altshuler Fund for Psychiatric Education. She served on the board of trustees for Zale-Lipshy Hospital. Altshuler was also a founding board member of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (see KOMEN, SUSAN GOODMAN), president of the Junior League of Dallas, president of the Visiting Nurses Association, and a life trustee of the Hockaday School.

Nationally, President George W. Bush appointed Altshuler to the Library of Congress Trust, and she served on the board of the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries. In 2004 Secretary of State Colin Powell named her to the United States Commission to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). One of the most important public acts she coordinated in her lifetime was the fifty-year anniversary of the memorial for John F. Kennedy assassination in Dallas, where she, at age eighty-eight, acted as the chairwoman of the organization in charge of the event.

Ruth Altshuler received many honors during her lifetime. She was inducted into the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame in 1987. In 1991 the Texas House of Representatives honored her with a resolution applauding her service to Dallas and the state of Texas. In 1992 the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities named her the Outstanding Trustee in the Nation from a private university. She was inducted into the Texas Philanthropy Hall of Fame in 1997, and in 1999 the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives named her Outstanding Philanthropist in the Nation. In 2011 Ruth Altshuler became the first person in the U.S. to receive all three national service honors—the 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. Other honors include the 2015 Member of Distinction Award from the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from Dallas-based VolunteerNow, the YWCA of Metropolitan Dallas’s Centennial Award, the Linz Award, and the Annette Strauss Humanitarian Award. The Ruth Collins Sharp Drama Building in the Meadows School of the Arts of Southern Methodist University was named in her honor.  

Ruth Collins Altshuler died in Dallas on December 8, 2017, after developing a medical complication from a broken hip. She was buried in Restland Memorial Park in Dallas.

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Dallas Morning News, December 9, 17, 2017. El Paso Times, October 25, 1997. “Explore the Collection of Dallas Philanthropist Ruth Sharp Altshuler” Sotheby’s (https://www.sothebys.com/en/articles/explore-the-collection-of-dallas-philanthropist-ruth-sharp-altshuler), accessed September 14, 2021. Christina Geyer, Dallas’ Most Influential Woman—Legendary Philanthropist Swears She’s Driven by Guilt,” PaperCity (https://www.papercitymag.com/society/ruth-altshuler-dallas-most-influential-woman-legendary-philanthropist-driven-guilt/), accessed September 14, 2021. Teresa Gubbins, “Legendary Dallas philanthropist Ruth Altshuler dies at 93,” CultureMap Dallas (https://dallas.culturemap.com/news/society/12-11-17-ruth-altshuler-philanthropist-obituary/), accessed September 14, 2021. Sharon Reynolds, “Ruth Altshuler: Changing the world one person at a time,” Alumni & Giving, UT Southwestern Medical Center (https://engage.utsouthwestern.edu/pages/donor-stories/donor-story-ruth-altshuler), accessed September 14, 2021. “Ruth Elaine Collins Altshuler,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/185812145/ruth-elaine-altshuler), accessed October 24, 2021. Texas Women’s Hall of Fame: Ruth C. Sharp Altshuler, Texas Woman’s University (https://twu.edu/twhf/honorees/ruth-c-sharp-altshuler/), accessed September 14, 2021.

Categories:
  • Activism and Social Reform
  • Civic Leaders
  • Health and Medicine
  • Patrons, Collectors, and Philanthropists
  • Women
Time Periods:
  • Texas Post World War II
  • Texas in the 21st Century
Places:
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Dallas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Camila Ordorica Bracamontes, “Altshuler, Ruth Elaine Collins Sharp,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 23, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/altshuler-ruth-elaine-collins-sharp.

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October 25, 2021
December 22, 2021

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