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Edith O’Donnell, praised for belonging on ‘a Mount Rushmore’ of Dallas philanthropists, dies at 94

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Edith Jones O’Donnell, who performed a pivotal position in advancing instructional and humanities endeavors in her adopted metropolis — a lot in order that one government describes her as belonging on “a Mount Rushmore” of Dallas philanthropists — died at her house Saturday night time. She was 94.

“Edith lived a purpose-driven life,” stated Peter O’Donnell Jr., 96, whom she married in 1952 and with whom she shared a greater than 60-year partnership in philanthropy. “She by no means stopped interested by the humanities and the following large factor. Her central idea was making Dallas a middle for creativity.”

O’Donnell and her husband co-founded the O’Donnell Basis in 1957, and for a few years most of their items — which whole $780 million, in line with her husband’s printed memoir — had been nameless.

“It was not till lately that they favored their names on something,” stated Edith O’Donnell’s shut buddy and fellow philanthropist, Margot Perot, the widow of Ross Perot Sr.

“That they had an exquisite marriage and had been a fantastic workforce,” Perot stated Monday. “They’ve achieved a lot for Dallas. They had been so shut. They did all the pieces collectively. They gave in so many quiet methods and had been supremely beneficiant.”

Born in Abilene, O’Donnell was the daughter of Percy Jones, an engineer and builder of railroads in West Texas. He additionally acquired ranch properties that had been a part of what we now know because the Permian Basin. Throughout their marriage, O’Donnell’s husband grew to become a profitable investor in publicly traded securities. She and her husband shared their wealth extensively however for years clung to a low profile.

The exterior of the University of Texas at Dallas' Edith O'Donnell Arts and Technology Building is shown. O'Donnell and her husband shared their wealth extensively but for years clung to a low profile.
The outside of the College of Texas at Dallas’ Edith O’Donnell Arts and Know-how Constructing is proven. O’Donnell and her husband shared their wealth extensively however for years clung to a low profile.(Ron Baselice / Employees Photographer)

One exception to O’Donnell’s nameless type of largesse got here in 2014, when she gave $17 million to the College of Texas at Dallas for the creation of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Artwork Historical past.

The UT system adopted O’Donnell’s reward with a further $10 million, and different philanthropists added $3 million extra, in line with Michael Thomas, director of the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Artwork Historical past. It’s housed within the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Know-how Constructing, which was devoted in 2013.

“Individuals don’t fund the humanities very a lot anymore,” Thomas stated, “particularly in a day and age — and this has been magnified by COVID — the place an increasing number of funding will probably be going to the sciences, and universities are dismantling, and to a sure extent pulling sources away, from the humanities and superb arts, particularly artwork historical past. Her generosity was really one thing, and her imaginative and prescient to see the significance of funding our institute was a rarity, and one thing that for UTD was very a lot wanted.”

Thomas mourned O’Donnell’s passing as coming just two years after that of Margaret McDermott, whom he described as being among the many metropolis’s biggest technology of philanthropists, and UTD administrator and “rainmaker” Rick Brettell, who enlisted the monetary backing of each ladies to result in an academic turning level for the varsity. (From 2013 to 2018, Brettell doubled as artwork critic of The Dallas Morning Information.)

Thomas described O’Donnell, McDermott and Brettell as “a triumvirate for the humanities in Dallas.” Mrs. O’Donnell, he stated, “must be there as one of many faces on a Mount Rushmore of arts and philanthropy in Dallas.”

Brettell’s widow, Caroline Brettell, stated O’Donnell’s “assist of Rick and the O’Donnell institute was essentially vital for Rick and clearly transformative for the College of Texas at Dallas. It skyrocketed the research of artwork historical past inside this science and expertise college. It took it into one other stratosphere.”

In response to Caroline Brettell, Monet scholar Paul Tucker, who was amongst Rick Brettell’s closest buddies, tells the story of being within the automobile with Brettell when he bought the decision informing him that O’Donnell was prepared to present $17 million to UTD. Rick Brettell as soon as famous that O’Donnell’s philanthropy was grounded “in an unflinching perception that human creativity within the arts is important for a wholesome tradition.”

“The O’Donnells gave so quietly and anonymously for many of her life,” Caroline Brettell stated. “After which late in life, they began to be extra public about it. They noticed in Rick any individual who had such a inventive thoughts. They put their cash behind issues that they noticed as successful initiatives. In UTD’s case, it began at $5 million and went to $12 [million], after which Peter stated, ‘Put the 2 collectively,’ and it grew to become $17 million. They went in very modestly, after which Peter got here again and stated, ‘Not formidable sufficient.’ This was Peter and Edith working collectively. She was usually so quiet, however this was all for her.

“She was so passionate concerning the arts, and he was within the sciences, however he was very proud to have her title on that initiative. And the way progressive it was for a college like UTD. You’d need to look exhausting across the nation to seek out such a monumental reward to the humanities. They actually saved pushing Rick to make it an increasing number of formidable.”

Born in Abilene, O’Donnell was the daughter of Percy Jones, an engineer and builder of railroads in West Texas.
Born in Abilene, O’Donnell was the daughter of Percy Jones, an engineer and builder of railroads in West Texas.(Employees)

However not at all did O’Donnell restrict her philanthropy to the humanities. As Margot Perot famous, O’Donnell and her husband made main contributions to 2 of Perot’s causes, UT Southwestern Medical Middle and the Perot Museum of Nature & Science.

Their assist of training, science, drugs and engineering qualifies them, within the phrases of William Solomon, the chairman, president and CEO of the O’Donnell Basis, “as being among the many main philanthropists in Texas historical past.”

“Gracious woman involves thoughts after I consider Edith,” Solomon stated. “Lovely and gracious in each approach. However past that, her outstanding philanthropic generosity and the power, imaginative and prescient and management that she put behind her philanthropy has left an indelible mark on the state of Texas and most notably the humanities in Dallas.”

Born on Aug. 27, 1926, to Percy Jones and philanthropist and civic chief Ruth Leggett Jones, O’Donnell attended the general public faculties in Abilene earlier than graduating from the Hockaday College in Dallas in 1944. She attended Mills Faculty in Oakland, Calif., and later graduated from the College of Texas at Austin in 1948.

On Nov. 22, 1952, she married Peter O’Donnell Jr., with whom she launched into 63 years of charitable giving. Within the month after they married, she volunteered as a docent at what was then the Dallas Museum of Positive Arts in Truthful Park, starting, within the phrases of her basis, “a lifelong journey to raise the humanities in Dallas and past.”

Her mom created the Dodge Jones Basis in 1954, which grew to become a mannequin for the O’Donnell Basis, which Edith and Peter O’Donnell Jr. co-founded in 1957.

Along with UTD, her dedication to philanthropy prolonged to the AT&T Performing Arts Middle, Massive Thought, Booker T. Washington Excessive College for the Performing and Visible Arts, the Dallas Museum of Artwork, the Perot Museum of Nature & Science, Meadows College of the Arts at Southern Methodist College and the Faculty of Positive Arts at UT Austin.

The DMA issued an announcement Monday, calling O’Donnell “a visionary philanthropist,” who, together with her husband in 2013, made a multiyear reward of $9 million to “reestablish the DMA’s free normal admission coverage” and to digitize the museum’s total assortment.

DMA director Agustín Arteaga cited her “heat and massive coronary heart” and praised her proclivity for “giving all that she might to her neighborhood, particularly to the youngest members of our metropolis.”

O’Donnell listed as considered one of her “crowning achievements” the annual “Younger Masters” exhibition, which from 1996 to 2018 featured choose works created by college students collaborating within the O’Donnell Basis’s AP Positive Arts Incentive Program. Within the 24-year historical past of this system, greater than 20,500 arts and music college students took half.

“I am going again to see the displays many instances and simply glow over them,” O’Donnell informed The Dallas Morning Information in 2008.

She spoke usually of hoping to enhance arts training for college students and academics in any respect grade ranges — from elementary college by graduate college. In 1967, she co-founded Younger Audiences of Better Dallas, in hopes of restoring the humanities to public faculties within the Dallas space. Younger Audiences later grew to become Massive Thought, which, as one of many largest arts teaching programs within the nation, focuses on inequity. She was keen on noting that, by 2016, Massive Thought had served 7.7 million college students, sponsored 30,000 performances and skilled 66,000 academics.

She additionally by no means forgot her hometown. She made frequent contributions to the Grace Museum and the Paramount Theater in Abilene. She organized for the contribution of two,000 volumes from the College of Texas Libraries to determine an artwork historical past library on the Grace Museum and improve the museum’s distance studying program for the advantage of rural communities.

Her most outstanding awards included the Linz Award, The College of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Hockaday Medal, the Doty Award from UT Austin’s Faculty of Positive Arts and an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from SMU.

Peter O’Donnell Jr. usually referred to his spouse as a “real Texas authentic,” whom he contends performed an indispensable position in Dallas’ cultural renaissance.

O’Donnell is survived by her husband and their daughters, Ann Stevanovich of Dallas, Carol Kradolfer of Boise, Idaho, Ruth Mutch of Dallas, and 6 grandchildren.

“We misplaced our beloved mom,” Mutch and Kradolfer stated Monday in an announcement. “To us she was the guiding pressure on methods to stay a fantastic life. Her qualities of kindness, humility, and generosity touched her household and numerous others.”

Companies are pending. In lieu of flowers, the household suggests memorial contributions be made to the Edith O’Donnell Institute of Artwork Historical past at UTD, the Dallas Museum of Artwork, and Massive Thought.

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