Philanthropist Ruth Horton loved art
Ruth Horton spent her life supporting the arts and giving to others.
The art collector and patron, who along with her late husband donated hundreds of pieces of artwork and land to the Virginia Tech Foundation, died Monday at Warm Hearth Village in Blacksburg. She was 92.
Robert Miller, owner of Miller Off Main Street Galleries, said he still remembers the night he met Horton when she and her husband, Miles, came to see a multimedia slideshow he had created as a student in architecture. Once he began selling art, the Hortons became “dear patrons of 38 years,” and Miller said the couple was dedicated to more than just the art world.
“They were in a position to give, and they gave everything they ever had to support a lot of social causes, not just the arts,” Miller said. “They were the epitome of what I would consider true philanthropists, no strings attached.”
The Hortons moved to Blacksburg in 1956 when Miles Horton was hired as Virginia Tech’s head reference librarian. The two had met at the University of Virginia, where Ruth Horton was using G.I. Bill tuition for nursing school, after serving as a nurse in World War II.
Originally from outside of Harrisonburg, Ruth Horton spent years traveling and collecting art with her husband. But Tony Distler, former director of Virginia Tech’s School of the Arts, said that Ruth Horton always had a soft spot for local artists.
“They supported local artists in the NRV very strongly, and a good portion of the donated artwork is local artists,” Distler said. “For example, Ruth had a very strong affection for Walt Hewes of Giles County.”
Carol Teele, Ruth Horton’s friend for 15 years, said that after Miles Horton died in 2001, Ruth Horton moved out of the couple’s estate on Mountain Lake in Giles County to a townhouse at Warm Hearth. The couple’s land, which included their house, a studio for artists and an observatory, was donated to the Virginia Tech Foundation.
Distler was in charge of cataloging and moving the artwork, which he said consisted of about 900 pieces, the majority of which are prominently displayed in various buildings around campus.
According to the Office of University Development at Virginia Tech, Horton was a member of the President’s Circle, meaning she gave at least $1 million to the university.
In addition to donating artwork, Horton never stopped giving back to her community, Teele said.
“She served as the first woman on the First National Bank board, she was a founding member of the Community Foundation of the New River Valley, she gave to a lot of charities, she was on the board of trustees of Blacksburg United Methodist Church,” Teele said. “She always gave and did.”
Horton died as a result of a hematoma that formed after she fell May 30. Her stepdaughter, Caroline Horton Lapan, said that because of other complications, doctors were not able to address the bleed.
“She will be sorely missed,” Miller said. “It wasn’t just what she did for the university; it was everything for society at large.”
The Roanoke Times | 381-1669