Ruth Shapiro: The ‘Quiet Strength’ in a Transformative Partnership

Ruth and Carl Shapiro
Ruth and Carl Shapiro

In 1950, Ruth and Carl Shapiro made their first gift to Brandeis: 10 dollars. That donation inaugurated a philanthropic partnership that deeply benefited Brandeis, helping transform the university into a leader in American higher education.

When Ruth Shapiro died Oct. 14, at age 95, she left behind a lasting legacy in the form of three of the most prized buildings on campus: the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Campus Center, completed in September 2002; the Carl J. Shapiro Science Center, completed in summer 2009; and the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Admissions Center, completed in October 2009.

“On this sad day, when we mourn the passing of Ruth Shapiro, we also celebrate a life dedicated to helping others,” President Fred Lawrence said. “Carl and Ruth Shapiro have been instrumental in helping Brandeis become the institution that our founders envisioned in 1948. May her memory ever be a blessing.”

Ruth, a resident of Boston and Palm Beach, Fla., served as a fellow of the university for many years. She was a 1937 graduate of Wellesley College, where she majored in music, a lifelong passion. Throughout her life, she committed herself to supporting underserved communities and programs, and to helping those in need.

Carl, who is 99, was a Brandeis trustee from 1979-88 and has served as a trustee emeritus since. In January 2003, Brandeis presented him with an honorary degree for his “unshakable commitment to making the world a better place.”

At Brandeis, the Shapiros also established the Carl Shapiro Chair in International Finance, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Center for Library Technology and Journals, and the Zinner Forum at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

“Ruth and Carl were an amazing team, and they believed in the unique mission of Brandeis and its special place among American universities,” says Nancy Winship, P’10, P’12, senior vice president of institutional advancement, who worked closely with the Shapiros for two decades. “Ruth was an elegant woman who was the quiet strength of the family. She was deeply knowledgeable about the arts and music. We will all miss her.”

The Shapiros were married for 73 years and have three daughters, Rhonda Zinner, Ellen Jaffe and Linda Waintrup, all of whom have been involved with Brandeis through the years. Rhonda serves on the Brandeis Board of Trustees.

In addition to its support of Brandeis, the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation has given generously to a number of educational, medical and cultural organizations in both Boston and Palm Beach. In Boston, the Shapiros have supported Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston Medical Center, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the Children’s Museum and WGBH. In Florida, they have supported the Norton Museum of Art, the Palm Beach Opera and the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts.

“Ruth would call, and she would remember your husband’s name and your children’s names,” Winship told The Boston Globe after Shapiro’s death. “We talked a lot. She never called to demand anything. She was very humble in that way. She really had this sincere, genuine fondness for people at all levels of an institution.”