Philanthropist Ruth Lilly Dies at 94

Philanthropist Ruth Lilly Dies at 94

Ruth Lilly, one of the country's most generous philanthropists and the last surviving great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly, has died at the age of 94, the Indianapolis Star reports.

Over the course of her life, Lilly gave away the bulk of an estimated $800 million fortune, the source of which was Eli Lilly & Co., the pharmaceutical business established by her family in 1876. What's more, she gave to a wide variety of causes and organizations, including colleges, hospitals, and charities, most in her home state of Indiana. But it was her unexpected donation of $100 million in 2002 to the Modern Poetry Association, the publisher of Poetry magazine, that revealed something deeply personal about Lilly: she was a poet at heart.

Yet, she lived reclusively and ventured out infrequently. Indeed, despite the comforts her wealth provided, Lilly was plagued by depression and spent much of her forty-year marriage to Guernsey Van Riper, the son of a local advertising executive, wrestling with her illness in a hospital. The marriage, which was childless, was dissolved in October 1981; a week later, Lilly's brother, J.K. Lilly III, had the fortune of his sister, then 66, placed under the supervision of a guardian. From that point on, her checks required the signature of an attorney.

In her 70s, Lilly's depression lifted, thanks in large part to Prozac, Eli Lilly and Co.'s revolutionary antidepressant, and she spent her last few decades in relative peace.

In her later years, Lilly's "philanthropy widened her circle of contacts and interests," niece Irene L. McCutchen told the Star. "Ruth's life became much more interesting and rewarding as her interests in philanthropy involved her with a wide variety of Indianapolis institutions. She enjoyed visiting with many wonderful and talented people who served the community of Indianapolis, Indiana."

Will Higgins. "Indianapolis Philanthropist Ruth Lilly Dies at Age 94." Indianapolis Star 12/31/2009.