Sunday, February 3, 2013

Ruth Alshuler at the Helm

                   With Ruth Altshuler at the helm, Dallas’ painful JFK memorial is in experienced hands

“No” isn’t a word Ruth Altshuler hears much, and it’s one she doesn’t like to use either.
But last June when Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings called her Park Cities home, 88-year-old Altshuler — the city’s grande dame of raising money and running things — knew what he wanted.

And she was ready to politely, but firmly, decline.

Rawlings needed someone to plan this year’s ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. And he knew it would be tricky.

Nov. 22, 1963, is the most painful day in Dallas’ history — one that lives on in the civic psyche — and a first-term mayor’s greatest fear is an old scab being ripped off a deep wound in public.

One misstep will almost certainly lead to national ridicule.

That’s why he called “Ruthie.”

“This event is extremely important in the life of Dallas,” Rawlings said. “I wanted someone who had a lot of experience leading important projects, somebody who knew Dallas and knew what Dallas was all about, and someone great at dealing with the human quality of something like this.”

Altshuler demurred when Rawlings popped the question.

Too old, she suggested. Too busy. Too out of touch.

Altshuler is the kind of woman who’s lived much of her life being pursued — for her classic beauty, and her money. She wanted the mayor to work for it.

He obliged.

Rawlings pressed on about how the ceremony needed to be somber and dignified — no circus or crazy conspiracy stuff. Focus on Kennedy’s legacy, not the tragedy.

In short, it should be an event befitting the memory of one of our nation’s young lions.

He paused, then nudged, “Do it for Dallas.”

Altshuler laughed her trademark laugh — a warm and velvety, low-in-the-throat alto — and said, “I’m over the hill, but I’ll come back over the hill.”

And so began what may be her defining public-service project in a life that has largely been devoted to philanthropy.


Altshuler grew up in a grand old home on Swiss Avenue, the youngest child and only daughter of Ruth and Carr P. Collins.

Her father founded Fidelity Union Life Insurance Co. in 1927, which eventually grew into one of the largest businesses of its kind in the nation.

Prosperity sheltered the young Ruth and her two brothers — Carr P. Collins Jr. and James M. Collins — from the suffering of the Great Depression.

Altshuler’s early life was cushioned by a family nurse, a Ford convertible and a blithe sense of entitlement.

Her summers were spent canoeing at Camp Waldemar, an exclusive girls’ camp in the Texas Hill Country, and many weekends she slept at the Texas Governor’s Mansion.

One of her friends, Molly O’Daniel, was the daughter of Gov. Wilbert Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel.

In those days, Altshuler’s boyfriend was Charles Storey, who later became a prominent Dallas lawyer.

“Here I am at the governor’s mansion sleeping on Sam Houston’s bed, which was like sleeping on this,” she said, laughing as she leaned forward and rapped her knuckles on a coffee table in her home.

“The Texas Rangers would come upstairs and say, ‘Ms. Collins, Mr. Storey is downstairs waiting for you.’ And there I’d go, just sashaying down the stairs.”

It was thrilling, romantic and Altshuler knew little else until her junior year at SMU, when she met and married a Navy pilot. They ended up in Oregon.

Less than two years later, he was shot down during a World War II bombing raid over Tokyo.

One month shy of her 21st birthday, Altshuler returned to Dallas a widow.

‘Turning point’

She took a job at Dallas Love Field as a ticket taker, supervised the loading of baggage and sometimes stood on the tarmac guiding planes into their parking spots using hand signals.

Months later, Altshuler met her second husband, Charles Sharp, a local boy who had worked his way through law school at the University of Texas and had a year under his belt at Harvard.

He was poor and didn’t have a car, but to a young Altshuler, he was irresistible.

“He was the best-looking man I ever saw,” she said, eyes shining. “And in those days, looks were No. 1 on my list and whether they were a good dancer was No. 2.

“Integrity came in something like 14, and honesty was 17.”

During their courtship, Sharp was assigned to a Navy shipyard in Rhode Island, where he taught young officers how to command PT boats.

One of his students: Lt. John F. Kennedy.

“They certainly weren’t intimate friends, but I know he was in one or two of Charles’ classes,” said Altshuler. “I always thought it was funny they had Charles there as a trainer, because he had never even been out on White Rock Lake in a rowboat.”

They married on June 21, 1947, and started a family. Sally was born in 1949, and Stanton came along in 1952.

Altshuler joined the Junior League, a civic group for young women. They took her on a tour of Dallas she’d never seen.

“We went to Parkland [Memorial Hospital] and the Lighthouse for the Blind and Goodwill Industries,” she said. “I was just so overwhelmed.

“There was so much need and so much that needed to be done. That was the turning point in my life.”

Charity work

But just as Altshuler’s life work came into focus, her future at home became blurry.

Her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and their son was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness. Her third child, Susan, was born in 1960.

“I had my son running up and down the halls not knowing where he was, and I was up all night with Charles,” she said. “So I had some lean years in there, shall we say.”

In some ways, charity work was her relief.

Altshuler was eventually selected for many boards, including those of the Salvation Army, United Way and SMU — and in each case, she rose to be the first female chairman.

Altshuler confesses she felt a few jitters when she was invited into the city’s male-dominated inner sanctum of power, but they faded quickly.

“I’m one of those people who are often wrong, but seldom in doubt,” she said. “I have a strong personality, and you have to have confidence when you’re asking to be president of some of these things.”

In 1963, she got a call from Joe Dealey, publisher of The Dallas Morning News.

“You’re going to get a subpoena,” he said. “I’m on the nominating committee, and you’re going to be the first woman we’ve ever asked to be on the grand jury.”

Altshuler found the work fascinating.

She showed up each morning around 8 at the Old Records Building in downtown Dallas and listened as prosecutors presented cases for indictment.

They broke for lunch a little early on Nov. 22, 1963 — a Friday — because Kennedy was coming to town.

Altshuler crossed Houston Street and stood on the corner of the Texas School Book Depository, where minutes later and six stories up, Lee Harvey Oswald would prepare a sniper’s nest.

Her husband picked her up and they drove down Elm Street, under the overpass and out to the old Dallas Trade Mart, where local dignitaries waited to greet the young president.

Eventually, the press corps filed in to the luncheon. A few minutes later, they all ran out.

J. Erik Jonsson, the co-founder of Texas Instruments who would eventually become Dallas’ mayor, stepped to the podium.

“I’m saddened to tell you the president has been shot,” he said.

The Rev. Luther Holcomb rose and recited a prayer.

“We were sort of numb and everybody just started walking out,” Altshuler said. “By the time we go to our cars, word had gotten out that he was dead. People were just sobbing everywhere.”

The next day, Altshuler and others began a fundraising campaign for the children of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer shot to death by Oswald after the assassination. It raised $650,000.

Jack Ruby fatally shot Oswald on Sunday.

Monday morning, Altshuler was on the grand jury that handed down the indictment.

Interesting life

“Life has not been wasted on me, that’s for sure,” Altshuler said. “I’ve just been fortunate to meet all these interesting people in all these interesting situations.”

The list includes four presidents — Reagan, both Bushes and Obama, whom she met in 2009 when her friend Nancy Brinker was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House.

“He saw me and just came over and gave me a high-five,” she said. “And then he bent over and kissed me and I thought, ‘Who is this man?’”

Her philanthropy thrived, even through the death of her husband, Charles, in 1984. A few years later, she rediscovered love when she married Dr. Ken Altshuler.

She raised millions for the Salvation Army’s Carr P. Collins center, the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and Dallas Summer Musicals. She started a campaign to buy televisions and air conditioners for shut-ins, and each Thanksgiving she still hosts a food drive on her driveway.

With phone calls and personal letters, she raises millions.

When Laura Bush asked her to join her Foundation for America’s Libraries, Altshuler sat down and wrote 20 letters to her friends asking for $1 million apiece. She got $7 million.

“Everyone in Dallas knows that the easiest way to make sure a project is successful is to have Ruth Altshuler on your side,” Laura Bush wrote in an email.

“With her great generosity of spirit, Ruth has bettered every part of our city’s civic life. I’m especially grateful for Ruthie’s friendship.”

In Dallas’ philanthropic community, Altshuler’s organizing and fundraising prowess is legendary.

“When Ruth calls you, you do what she wants you to do,” said former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, a friend for more than 30 years.

“Nobody would ever say ‘no’ to Ruth. If she asks you for 100 percent, you do it, because you know she has already given 200 percent.”

Gerald Turner, president of SMU, where Altshuler has been a trustee for 46 years, has a similar story.

“I always tell people Ken Altshuler and I have a lot in common,” he said. “We both get up every morning and do what Ruth tells us to do.”

Power of persuasion

That power of persuasion is exactly why Rawlings asked Altshuler to lead the commemoration of the JFK assassination this fall.

“Ruth’s life has been one of understated grace and a sense of class, and that’s what I want to make sure we have in this event,” Rawlings said.

“She’s not a big talker. She’s not flashy, but she’s a go-getter and she gets things done.”

You can already see results.

Altshuler called an old friend — author David McCullough, who is known as America’s historian — and asked him to write and deliver remarks at the 50th anniversary ceremony.

A local admiral arranged for a 63-man Navy choir to perform.

Staubach, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, is working on a flyover.

“I just really respect her,” Staubach said. “There are people in life who take out of life, and then you have people who give back with gusto. That’s Ruth.”

Follow Scott Farwell on Twitter at @scottfarwell.

BACKGROUND: Honors and awards
Major honors and appointments:
Library of Congress Trust Fund Board, appointed by President George W. Bush
U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, appointed by Secretary of State Colin Powell
First person in the U.S. to receive all three of these national honors: Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year; United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award; Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges
Salvation Army’s Order of Distinguished Auxiliary Service
Trustee of the Laura Bush Foundation for America’s Libraries
Local and state awards:
Texas Women’s Hall of Fame
Life trustee of The Hockaday School
Honorary chairman of the Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center and Dallas Summer Musicals
Past chairman of Communities Foundation of Texas
J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award
SMU Distinguished Alumni Award
SMU trustee for 46 years

Skeptics of JFK assassination official version say they’re barred from 50th anniversary
January 5, 2013

By admin
Skeptics of JFK assassination official version say they’re barred from 50th anniversary
By Edmund DeMarche

Published January 02, 2013

Nov. 22, 1963: President John F. Kennedy is slumped in the backseat of this car immediately after being shot in Dallas. (AP)

A Washington-based group that has long questioned the official version of John F. Kennedy’s assassination says the city of Dallas is trampling its rights by barring it from Dealey Plaza for this year’s 50th anniversary of the murder of the nation’s 35th president.

The Coalition on Political Assassinations has gathered every year since 1994 at the site where Kennedy was killed by a sniper on Nov. 22, 1963. The group typically observes a moment of silence and members often give speeches. But this year it was denied a permit, the group’s director told

“It’s ironic that the city wants to celebrate JFK’s life — and not his death — at the very place where he was assassinated,” John Judge, the executive director of the group, said. “They are afraid of the thousands of people that will come to the site to commemorate his death and call for the truth.”

The annual gatherings were first loosely organized by journalist Penn Jones, who was one of the earliest skeptics of the official explanation of the assassination. Judge was a friend of Jones, who died in 1998.

“When he died, I promised him I would keep the tradition going,” Judge said.

Although a federal commission studied the shooting and determined that Lee Harvey Oswald, a socialist drifter and former Marine, had acted alone, the assassination has long been the subject of conspiracy theories. Judge said his coalition, which focuses on killings ranging from the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., to recent drone attacks in the Middle East, has no single theory about how Kennedy was killed. But the group rejects the findings of the Warren Commission and does not believe Oswald, who was killed two days after the assassination, played any role in Kennedy’s death.

Regardless of who killed Kennedy, Judge believes his group has every right to mark the date at the site.

“This is content-based denial of free speech in a public park,” Judge wrote on his organization’s website. “Dealey Plaza belongs to history and to the American people, especially on the 50th anniversary.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings denied that the city banned the coalition from the event, but acknowledged that officials intend to focus on the late president’s life and ensure the event was open “mainly” to residents of Dallas.

“We make sure that opposing voices are heard in Dallas and celebrate freedom of speech,” Rawlings said. “But with this event, we focus on Kennedy’s life and legacy.”

In May, Rawlings put together a committee called The 50th Committee, to organize the anniversary. Most board members were alive to remember the president’s assassination.

“We have one board member who was waiting for Kennedy at a luncheon that he never attended,” Rawlings said.

Rawlings, for his part, remembers sitting cross-legged inside the Leawood Elementary School’s gym in Kansas and being told the news by his teacher.

“I knew it was important,” he recalls. “It was the president.”

Rawlings said his office has reached out to Judge to discuss the event.

2 Responses to Skeptics of JFK assassination official version say they’re barred from 50th anniversary

Douglas Baker
February 2, 2013 at 9:45 am

2/02/2012 When in the 60′s and 70′s in down town Dallas we witnessed against the war in Vietnam, city “Fathers” weren’t happy, it’s no surprise as the 50th year since President Kennedy was murdered and what really happened is still largely unknown as to who did it, who the enablers were and why a decision was made to murder the President in a public way; it’s useful to remember and perhaps reread George Orwell’s 1984 (the grandchild of Jack London’s Iron Heel)and be mindful that by controlling the past, you also control the present and future. This denial is in the tradition of library burning recently in Timbuktu or a few years ago, the defacing of Religious sites in Afghanistan and absolutely goes against our Constitution’s provision for Freedom of Speech and during dark days of World War Two, President Roosevelt’s proclaiming Four Freedoms for the people. Mayor Mike’s wanting to limit participation to Dallas residence might make sense if President Kennedy were Mayor of Dallas; but he was President of these United States and people from all over the world visit Dallas to note where he was murdered. It is right and proper to celebrate his life and accomplishments as a detailed study might further indicate why he lost his life in Dallas.

SMU, Bush Library, Sixth Floor Museum partner on yearlong series to observe ‘somber anniversary’ of JFK’s killing

Back in February, our Louis DeLuca caught Xiao Dong Yu of China photographing one of the "x's" on Elm Street marking where President Kennedy was shot 49 years tomorrow.

One day after Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings explained how the city would officially commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy’s killing in Dealey Plaza – with a sober event featuring an acclaimed historian, some solemn music and a few speeches — SMU sends word it too has a plan to mark the occasion. And, per the announcement below, the Hilltop is partnering with its newest resident, the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, as well as the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza for what it’s billing as “a yearlong series of public programs” scheduled to begin in February of next year and extend all the way into 2014.

Like the city, SMU has also assembled its own collection of university profs and bold-faced names to curate the program; together they make up what’s being called the Tower Center Working Group on Remembrance and Commemoration: The Life and Legacy of JFK. Among the committee members are George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum Director Alan Lowe; Jeffrey Engel, founding director of SMU’s new Center for Presidential History; Ruth Morgan, most recently the chair of Dallas’s Redistricting Commission; and KERA’s Lee Cullum.

There aren’t a lot of details about what’ll happen or where it’ll happen or when it’ll happen or who will make it happen. All we know for now are the names of the two programs scheduled to bookend the inevitable look-back: “The Politics of Memory,” due to kick things off on February 18, 2013, and “Coping With Crises: How Presidents Manage National Crises,” which closes the program on February 17, 2014. And, yes, those happen to be the dates for Presidents Day.

SMU is looking forward to bringing an academic and scholarly orientation to the observance of this somber anniversary,” says SMU political science prof Dennis Simon in the heads-up that follows. “The Tower Center has a history of productive partnerships with the National Archives and Records Administration and presidential libraries, as well as with the Sixth Floor Museum. We are excited about the opportunity to reexamine the life and legacy of JFK and to help commemorate this tragic event.”


DALLAS (SMU) – SMU will work in concert with the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza to commemorate the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination with a yearlong series of public programs in 2013-14.

The series will begin with “The Politics of Memory” on President’s Day 2013 (Feb. 18, 2013) and end on President’s Day 2014 (Feb. 17, 2014) with “Coping With Crises: How Presidents Manage National Crises,” a program sponsored with the Sixth Floor Museum and the Bush Library and Museum. Other programs examining the legacies of the Kennedy presidency and its impact on American domestic and foreign policy are planned for the months leading up to Nov. 22, 2013– the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination while traveling by motorcade through Dallas’ Dealey Plaza.

SMU is working through a special committee of distinguished SMU faculty members and guests known as the Tower Center Working Group on Remembrance and Commemoration: The Life and Legacy of JFK. The John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies is part of SMU’s Dedman College of the Humanities and Sciences.

The committee is led by Dennis Simon, SMU political science associate professor, a fellow in the Tower Center and director of the Tower Center program on American Politics. George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum Director Alan Lowe is a member of the committee, as is Jeffrey Engel, founding director of SMU’s new Center for Presidential History and associate professor in the Williams P. Clements Department of History.

The working group includes William Bridge, SMU associate professor in the Dedman School of Law; Lee Cullum, journalist and Tower Center fellow; Kenneth Hamilton, SMU associate professor in the William P. Clements Department of History and director of ethnic studies in Dedman College; James Hollifield, SMU professor of political science and Arnold Fellow of International Political Economy, director of the Tower Center and chair of the Sixth Floor Museum Board; Rita Kirk, director of the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at SMU and a professor in the Division of Communication Studies; Thomas Knock, SMU associate professor of history and member of the board of trustees of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library; Ruth Morgan, former SMU provost and professor emerita of political science; Daniel Orlovsky, SMU professor of history and SMU’s George A. Bouhe Research Fellow in Russian Studies; and Tom Stone, SMU senior English lecturer who teaches courses that view the assassination through the works of writers, artists and scholars.

SMU is looking forward to bringing an academic and scholarly orientation to the observance of this somber anniversary,” Simon said. “The Tower Center has a history of productive partnerships with the National Archives and Records Administration and presidential libraries, as well as with the Sixth Floor Museum. We are excited about the opportunity to reexamine the life and legacy of JFK and to help commemorate this tragic event.”

The George W. Bush Presidential Center, which houses the Presidential Library and Museum, will be dedicated in late April 2013.

Details of the JFK-related series will be released as they become available.

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