Ruth Altshuler: Changing the world one person at a time

Ruth Altshuler

By Sharon Reynolds

Ruth Collins Sharp Altshuler, one of the most prominent and powerful people in Dallas politics and society, never forgot nor stopped working to help people in need.

Mrs. Altshuler, a longtime advocate for UT Southwestern Medical Center, passed away Dec. 8, 2017. She was 93. Her close friend, Nancy Halbreich, describes her as “the most outstanding woman in Dallas who found great joy in so many things.” She will be remembered as a visionary leader, legendary organizer, and devoted philanthropist who cared sincerely and deeply for others, especially the disenfranchised and those who had nobody to advocate for them.

Born and raised in Dallas, she was the youngest child of Fidelity Union Life Insurance founder Carr Collins and his wife, Ruth. In 1949, she joined the Junior League, a woman’s civic organization that exposed her to a Dallas she hadn’t known – one where people living in poverty struggled to find security and health. The experience ignited an enduring passion to strengthen her community through purposeful work.

Ruth and Dr. Kenneth Altshuler

“Mrs. Altshuler’s compassion for others was the cornerstone of a life which exemplified altruism in the myriad ways in which she improved the lives of so many. We at UT Southwestern are deeply grateful for her many years of steadfast support and encouragement in advancing our mission,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “She has left an enduring mark on our campus and our greater community and was an inspiration to us all.”

Dr. Kenneth Altshuler, Professor of Psychiatry, describes his late wife as extraordinary in her many roles – as a life partner, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, and community leader. They met soon after Dr. Altshuler came to UT Southwestern in 1978 as Chair of Psychiatry. They became friends and worked together to enhance care for psychiatric patients.

Through the years, the Altshulers supported the Department of Psychiatry 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. These funds support clinical research and academic education in programs related to mental illness. They also provided financial support to Clements University Hospital and Zale Lipshy University Hospital.

Mrs. Altshuler played a leadership role in fundraising for the Medical Center, participating in three key campaigns: the Innovations in Medicine campaign, which ultimately raised $772 million for research and clinical programs at UT Southwestern; the Building the Future of Medicine campaign to build the William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital; and the Campaign for the Brain, which is helping UT Southwestern develop cures for brain diseases. She served as past Chair of the Carolyn P. Horchow Women’s Health Symposium, a lifetime member of the UTSW President’s Advisory Board and the former UTSW Board of Visitors, member of the Zale Lipshy University Hospital Board, and a member of the Friends of the Center for Human Nutrition.

She championed the work of Southwestern Medical Foundation and was the 1995 recipient of The Sprague Award, one of the most prestigious philanthropy in health care awards in North Texas. She was a Foundation Trustee from 1981 until 2011 and led and served on many of the Foundation’s committees. She became an Honorary Trustee in 2011 and played a leading role on the Foundation’s 75th Anniversary Steering Committee.

“Ruth was a remarkable woman and I already miss her wisdom, her friendship, her counsel, and her deep insight,” said Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “She will always be a beautiful inspiration and a reminder of the power of good one person can build through diligent work, strength, and conviction.”

Ruth Altshuler and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison at the Southwest Medical Foundation's Annual Meeting May 2017

With a fierce determination to make things happen, Mrs. Altshuler raised millions of dollars for numerous organizations, served on many boards and committees, and guided others with her counsel. In 2013, the then-88-year-old Park Cities philanthropist tirelessly worked for and chaired the JFK 50th anniversary committee, raising more than $3 million by sending out handwritten requests to her circle of friends. The event, which Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings knew would bring national ridicule if the smallest component went wrong, went off without a hitch for the city and the first-term politician.

“There is a whole room in our house covered with her trophies and awards,” said Dr. Altshuler. “She has led everything you could possibly lead and has been honored in Dallas and throughout the country. What is most impressive are the gifts she made silently and anonymously.”

Mrs. Halbreich will cherish memories of her dear friend, especially her ability to change the world one person at a time.

“Ruth showed me how to be a good person, not with what she said, but by her example,” she said. “She enjoyed a full life. We can keep her memory alive by using the way she lived her life as a road map for our lives. If we do that, then her legacy will live on.”

Dr. Altshuler holds the Stanton Sharp Distinguished Chair in Psychiatry.
Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.