Ruth Lilly, a noted philanthropist and last surviving great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly, died Wednesday night at 94, a family spokesman said Thursday morning.
Over the course of her life, Lilly gave away the bulk of her inheritance, an estimated $800 million.
Yet to many, she was just a name on a building — a library, a hospital wing, a theater, museum exhibits. Lilly, who lived reclusively, was perhaps the most famous person few people ever saw.
Ensconced behind the brick walls of her mansion — attended by a staff of nearly 50 people — Lilly ventured out only occasionally. She sometimes visited organizations she’d funded, but more often she’d order her driver not to stop and be content with a quick glance.
She gave to a wide variety of causes — colleges, hospitals, the National Easter Seals Society. But it was her unexpected donation of $100 million in 2002 to an obscure, Chicago-based poetry association that revealed something deeply personal: Lilly was a poet at heart. Not only did she read it, she wrote it, though to little acclaim.
The unusual gift sustains Garrison Keillor’s daily radio poetry readings on „The Writer’s Almanac,“ sponsors a poetry professorship at Indiana University and honors top poets with prestigious annual awards.
„Poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly,“ said John Barr, president of the Poetry Foundation, which received the whopping grant.
/ USA Today (By Will Higgins and Robert King, The Indianapolis Star)