Ruth Lilly

Ruth Lilly
(8/2/1915 – 12/30/2009)

Ruth Lilly was born in 1915 in Indianapolis, the daughter and first-born child of Josiah K. Lilly II and Ruth Brinkmeyer Lilly. She was the great-granddaughter of Col. Eli Lilly, founder of the pharmaceutical firm, Eli Lilly and Company. While her grandfather and father both served as Lilly President and Chairman of the Board during their lifetimes, her brother, J.K. Lilly III, resigned from the company in 1948 and did not follow in their footsteps.

Portraits of Ruth Lilly featured in the Crown Hill Foundation’s award-winning book, Crown Hill: History, Spirit, Sanctuary

Ruth graduated from Tudor Hall School, a private girl’s school, in 1933 and attended Herron School of Art. She was married to Guernsey Van Riper Jr. from 1941 until their 1981 divorce. They had no children. In 1966, Ruth and her brother donated their parents’ estate, Oldfields, where she spent her late teens, to the Art Association of Indianapolis. It became the site of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, now known as Newfields.

Photo credit: Poetry Foundation

For much of her life, Ms. Lilly suffered from depression, but the development of the antidepressant “Prozac” by the Eli Lilly Company in 1988 improved her life. She began to travel with friends and family, and her philanthropy increased. She gave sizable gifts to many cultural, healthcare, and arts institutions and charities in and around Indianapolis.

Her gifts culminated in 2002 when she gave $150 million to the Lilly Endowment, Inc., the Lilly family’s charitable foundation; $120 million to Americans for the Arts, an arts advocacy group headquartered in Washington, D.C.; and $100 million in Lilly stock to the Poetry Foundation. She wrote poetry throughout her life, and though the Poetry Foundation rejected all her submissions to its magazine, she did not hold that against them. In 1998, the National Easter Seal Society named her the “U.S. Philanthropist of the Year.” During her lifetime, Ms. Lilly gave away about $800 million dollars.

Crown Hill Cemetery was also a benefactor of her gifts. Personally, and through the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation, she supported the restoration of the Gothic Chapel, the Waiting Station, the barn and workshops, the cemetery’s winding roads, the brick and wrought-iron fence, and numerous historic monuments in the original sections of the cemetery. Her foundation was the primary benefactor of the Crown Hill Foundation’s award-winning book, Crown Hill: History, Spirit, and Sanctuary, published in 2013.

Ms. Lilly died of heart failure in Indianapolis in 2009 at age 94. Her legacy continues through the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation and the many institutions and awards named in her honor.

Buried in Section 13, Lot 21; GPS (39.8196472, -86.1763380)