Honoring Ruth Cunningham Cross
On January 17, the Arts at UVA lost one of its most ardent supporters and treasured friends with the passing of Ruth Cunningham Cross. Ruth was a tireless advocate for her beloved Fralin Museum, playing a pivotal role in its 1974 reopening as the Bayly Museum. She worked for two decades in the Bayly Building and served as a member of both its Advisory and Volunteer Boards. Ruth was also an enthusiastic member of the Collections Committee and a member of the UVA Arts Council. Each year, in recognition of her service to the museum, the Volunteer Board gives the Ruth and Robert Cross Volunteer Service Award for Outstanding Service to a distinguished volunteer who has gone above and beyond in working to support The Fralin.
Her support of the arts extended throughout the University and Charlottesville communities. One of the projects she was most proud of was the mural by artist Lincoln Perry created for the lobby of Old Cabell Hall. She was an active volunteer for Reading for the Blind and Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle at the Jefferson School City Center, showing off her talents as a wonderful, expressive reader – a talent to which her grandchildren can delightedly attest. Ruth loved playing the piano and loved music, actively participating in local musical venues including the Charlottesville Chamber Music Festival, the Charlottesville Symphony, the Tuesday Evening Concert Series, Opera at the Paramount Theater, Rockport Music, and WTJU 91.1FM. In fact, Ruth endowed the Charlottesville Symphony's Principal Violin II and Principal Bass Chairs. According to Janet Kaltenbach, Executive Director of the Charlottesville Symphony Society, "Ruth was a great fan of the orchestra, joyfully attended concerts for decades, gave generously, and will be missed acutely."
Ruth loved sharing her thoughts on art with family and friends. One of those friends, The Fralin's J. Sanford Miller Family Director Matthew McLendon, fondly remembers how, after they had established their deep mutual love for opera, Ruth would invite him a few times a year to join her for lunch at Petit Pois on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall before heading over for a screening of The Metropolitan Opera Live at The Paramount. While it was a cherished social occasion, McLendon recalls that these dates would require a little brushing up on his part. “I always knew,” he said, “that I needed to study up on the opera we would be enjoying because Ruth, in her gentle but direct way, would test my knowledge during lunch. I usually passed, but Ruth always knew more than I did; her curiosity was sweeping.” As her obituary in the Daily Progress noted, Ruth was a “woman of distinction. She had an impeccable sense of fashion and style and was both modest and elegant.” Her loss McLendon said, will serve as an inspiration. “We will continue the work of Ruth’s beloved museum as the best manner through which to honor her distinguished life and legacy.”