Perhaps it was just selfish, but no one ever thought Dallas would be without Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler. She exemplified the city with her energy, determination, humor and ability to rise above loss. That’s why her death Friday night will cause many to recall their favorite stories about “their Ruth.”
There won’t be many who will remember the little girl who started life in 1924 on Swiss Avenue. Five years later when the Great Depression threw the country into a financial nightmare, her family’s resources protected her and her two brothers (Carr Collins II and Jim Collins) from the poverty that ravaged others.
At the age of 21, she was widowed when her first husband’s plane was shot down during World War II. A couple of years later she met and married her second husband Charles Sharp. Together they made a striking couple and their marriage of 40 years would produce three children (Sally, Stanton and Susan). It would also test the part in the wedding vows — “in sickness and health” — when Charles was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
It was during their marriage that she joined the Junior League and took on a lifelong mission to support the nonprofit sector including the Crystal Charity Ball, SMU, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center, Dallas County Medical Society, The Salvation Army DFW, Susan G. Komen, Dallas Summer Musicals, North Texas Giving Day, Retina Foundation of the Southwest, Family Gateway, I Stand For Parkland, Laura Bush’s Foundation for America’s Libraries and countless others.
In 1963 both the 39-year-old Ruth and the city of Dallas faced a turning point that would determine the city’s fate when President John F. Kennedy was killed in downtown Dallas. Overnight the city became internationally synonymous with hatred. But eventually the city rebounded, thanks to the leadership of the late Mayor Erik Jonsson and others including Ruth, who was on the grand jury that indicted Jack Ruby the day after he killed Lee Harvey Oswald.
The following years were indeed challenging on a personal level as well for Ruth with Charles’ disease progressing until his death in 1984. Still she carried on, juggling her family’s needs and her community involvement.
With the children grown and, widowed once again, Ruth threw herself into helping others. Eventually, she found the perfect partner in Dr. Ken Altshuler, who shared her sense of humor and her commitment to others. Just this past Tuesday, they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.
True to form, Ruth was always a magnet for attracting people. Whether it was U.S. Presidents (four of them to be exact — Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George Bush and Barack Obama), movie stars like Ginger Rogers and Sophia Loren, noted intellectuals like David McCullough or just a child in need, Ruth treated all the same with appreciation and that legendary quick wit.
For instance, at the 2014 Callier Center for Communications Disorders luncheon when she presented the Ruth and Ken Altshuler Callier Cares Award to her longtime friend Sara Martineau, she “admitted that her own grandchildren had held ‘an intervention,’ because no matter what they said, their grandmother would say, ‘What?’ She then reported that in her own household, she and husband Ken constantly exchange, ‘What?’ As Ken choked hearing Ruth tell the group of their personal experience, Ruth admitted that Ken had already gotten a hearing aid and she had ordered one.”
In the days, weeks and years ahead, it’s going to be difficult to imagine a world without Ruth. But on the other hand, if one just looks around, they’ll see her in the programs, buildings and people that have benefited from a life well lived.
According to The Dallas Morning News, 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 Margaret Mack Ballroom. Both will be open to the public.