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

A feature about Ruth Altshuler leading Dallas' commemoration of the JFK assassination this fall.

Staff Writer

“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.


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