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In Memoriam, Ruth S. Hanft: Our Friend, Mentor, Volunteer

Ruth Hanft When I first met Ruth Hanft, it never occurred to me that she would, indeed, become a significant mentor in my adult life. Ruth was a woman of small stature, with stylish glasses and short hair style, and she and I were attending the first committee meeting for each of us at the United Way-Thomas Jefferson Area.

In the introductory committee discussion that day, Ruth, with her unselfconscious, straight-forward, focused communication style, revealed who she would be as a committee member. She initiated questions, offered factual perspective, and was clearly committed to the task at hand. When puzzled by another’s statement of facts being presented, Ruth sought answers to her inquiries, then would sum up what seemed to be the overall, factually based, conclusion. Or, she would sit back in her chair, and note that the discussion had not produced answers to the problem being discussed. As this was my first meeting, I sat and observed Ruth and the group process, and gradually experienced feelings that fluctuated from admiration to total intimidation back to admiration. I remember feeling as if I were in a master class of health policy experts – and Ruth was the leading role model for each of us on the committee regarding the process of informed decision-making.

It was my privilege to be Ruth’s colleague for almost a decade. She worked tirelessly on our committee, often questioning and wanting to know more. Ruth’s informed style itself encouraged us all to be confident in our individual points of view. Throughout her leadership as a dedicated committee member, Ruth’s contributions to the United Way were significant and innumerable. Ruth also shared her genuine spirit of hospitality by inviting our committee members on numerous occasions to her home for socializing and enjoyment of her buffet, featuring smoked salmon especially prepared by her beloved husband Herb.

Ruth’s keen intellect and competencies and productivity are well outlined in the obituary below. It was Ruth’s blend of those professional and civic abilities, however, in combination  with her personal depth and kindness and loyalty that were so very compelling and unique. Ruth’s biggest gift to people, and causes, was herself. She will be remembered with great admiration, and missed beyond words by all of us who knew her.

Margery Daniel, Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker

United Way Board Chair


Ruth S. Hanft

Ruth S. Hanft, 82, died peacefully on Sunday, August 28, 2011, at her home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

She was born on July 12, 1929, in New York, New York, the daughter of the late Max J. and Ethel Samuels. She was also preceded in death by her sister, Maxine Rakoff.

Ruth received her undergraduate degree from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations in 1949, her Master's degree from Hunter College in 1962, and her PhD from the George Washington University in Health Services Management and Policy in 1989. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Osteopathic Medicine and Health Sciences, Des Moines, Iowa, in 1993.

Dr. Hanft was Adjunct Associate in the Center for Bioethics at the University of Virginia and at Dartmouth Medical School and a member of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences. She specialized in health service administration and public finance. A former Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health Research, Statistics, and Technology and a charter member of the Senior Executive Service of the United States, she later taught as a professor in the Gorege Washington University Department of Health Services Management and Policy. Dr. Hanft also served as program director for the Local Initiative Funding Partners Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Other professional activities included serving as associate editor of the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care and as a member of the American College of Physicians Task Force on Generalists. She received the Walter F. Patenge medal of Public Service from Michigan State University and was a Fellow of the Hastings Center.

A member of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she served on the board of directors, Ruth was engaged in and contributed to numerous volunteer and philanthropic endeavors, some of which included United Way, United Jewish Federation of Charlottesville, which she founded, Jefferson Area Board for Aging, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and the National Wildlife Federation. She also held numerous leadership positions in the League of Women Voters.

Ruth is survived by her husband of 60 years, Herbert Hanft, of Charlottesville, Virginia; her son, Jonathan of Minneapolis, Minnesota; daughter, Marjorie of Charleston, Illinois, and precious granddaughters, Rebekah and Eva.

A funeral service will be held 3 p.m. Tuesday, August 30, 2011, at Hill and Wood Funeral Home, Charlottesville, Virginia, with Rabbi Dan Alexander of Congregation Beth Israel officiating. Burial will follow at the Hebrew Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to United Way Thomas Jefferson Area or a charity of your choice.

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