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Philanthropist and poetry lover Ruth Lilly dies

December 31, 2009 |  8:37 am

Ruthlilly Ruth Lilly, the last surviving great-grandchild of pharmaceutical magnate Eli Lilly, died Wednesday night at her home in Indianapolis. She was 94.

During her lifetime, Lilly gave away the bulk of her fortune, around $800 million. In 2002, the heiress donated $175 million to Poetry Magazine, even though she'd submitted poems there that had been rejected.

Her gift, which had come as a surprise, has enabled the small literary journal to become a foundation that supports and promotes poetry on a larger scale. (Its website, particularly the poetry database, is a wonderful result of Lilly's gift.)

Lilly suffered from depression, spending much of her 40-year marriage in an Indianapolis hospital, and was divorced in 1981. It was only after her great-grandfather's company brought its groundbreaking anti-depressant Prozac to market that Lilly rebounded from her mental illness, the Indianapolis Star reported.

While much of her philanthropy benefited Indiana-based institutions, Ruth Lilly's literary support has national reach. Her donations support the poetry heard on Garrison Keillor's The Writers Almanac, which is heard on public radio stations around the country. 

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: An undated photograph of Ruth Lilly. Credit: Handout / Associated Press

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