Philanthropist Ruth Perelman dies

Posted: July 31, 2011

Ruth Caplan Perelman, 90, of Rittenhouse Square, died of pneumonia Sunday, July 31, at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mrs. Perelman and her philanthropist husband, Raymond G. Perelman have been major donors to Philadelphia institutions, including $6 million for the Perelman Theater at the Kimmel Center, $15 million for the Perelman Building at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and $3 million for the Perelman Jewish Day School, with campuses in Lower Merion and Melrose Park.

The Perelmans were Trustees of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman Education Foundation, Inc., which supports Jewish cultural and welfare organizations, as well as arts and history museums and other cultural institutions.

In May, the couple who had been married 70 years, signed paperwork for the naming rights to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine after they made a $225 million donation to the school.

"Philadelphia has lost a most beloved and consummately gracious public citizen," said Penn president Amy Gutmann in a statement on Sunday.

"Ruth's generous spirit and strong commitment to education, medicine, and culture in Philadelphia will be remembered for countless generations to come. "

In a 2007 profile of the Perelmans in The Inquirer, Raymond Perelman was described as "a no-nonsense workaholic, a pistol who by his estimation, has 'bought and sold between 30 or 50 companies.'"

Mrs. Perelman was described as "more retiring, comfortable letting her husband hold center court, but quick to correct him when she disagrees."

She told The Inquirer, "I had a clue, though I had no idea he would be this successful. He just felt he had to do these things. It's a fire in his belly."

Contacted Sunday, Jeffrey Perelman, one of the couple's two sons, said, "Ruth was a wonderful and loving mother and grandmother. She will be missed dearly by her entire family."

"She was kind, elegant, wise and generous," another son Ronald said Sunday. "She liked working one to one, personally helping people in need. She wanted people to be happy and well and was a great support to my father."

Ruth and Raymond Perelmans' gifts were made in both their names and their many pieces of contemporary art were purchased by mutual consent. "She's sort of the quiet authority," Ronald, told The Inquirer in 2007. "There's very little they don't agree upon."

"They're wonderful partners," Gail M. Harrity, president of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, told The Inquirer in 2007. "Ray is hard working, involved, very driven and energetic and hands-on. Ruth is quieter but keenly aware and committed, sort of a wise counselor. Together they're a fabulous duo," Harrity said.

Mrs. Perelman was active in philanthropic activities on her own. She had chaired the Harvest Ball to benefit Albert Einstein Hospital and in 2007 she co-chaired the ball celebrating the 150 anniversary of the Academy Music with son Jeffrey and with Dodo Hamilton and Hamilton's son, S. Matthews V. Hamilton Jr.

A native of New Haven, Conn., Mrs. Perelman attended Greensboro Women's College in Greensboro, N.C. "I wanted to attend Duke," she told The Inquirer, "but was discouraged because it was coed."

While in Greensboro, she met her future husband who was working for his family's company.

After marrying in 1941, they moved to Elkins Park, where she focused on raising their two children.

In 1970, Mrs. Perelman and her husband moved to Rittenhouse Square. When he gave a tour of the impressive art in their penthouse apartment to an Inquirer reporter, he stopped before what he called, "my favorite painting."

"It's Ruth," he said.

The Perelmans spent winters in Palm Beach, Fla. and summer weekends at their home in Atlantic City.

In addition to her husband and sons, Mrs. Perelman is survived by a sister, Phyllis Horton; eight grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

A funeral will be at 3 p.m., Monday, Aug. 1, at Beth Shalom Congregation, 8231 Old York Rd., Elkins Park. Entombment is private.

Donations may be made to The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Medicine Development, 3535 Market Street, Suite 750, Philadelphia, PA 19104.

Contact staff writer, Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or

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