In memoriam: Ruth Ellen duPont Lord, left mark on Yale and New Haven communities

Ruth Ellen duPont Lord, a noted member of the Yale community for several decades and one of the founders of Long Wharf Theatre, died on Aug. 4 in New Haven at the age of 92.

Born in 1922 to Henry Francis and Ruth Wales duPont, she grew up in New York City as well as Winterthur, Delaware and Boca Grande, Florida. Winterthur is now a public museum, and an obituary in Delaware Online notes that “Many people may remember Lord from a long-playing video that greeted guests taking a tour of the mansion.” She attended Foxcroft School and Vassar College and received a master’s degree in education from Yale.

She and her first husband, English professor George de Forest Lord, lived a Yale-centered life in New Haven and raised three children: Pauline, George, and Henry. One daughter, Edith, died in infancy in 1954. In 1964 Lord and three friends founded the Long Wharf Theatre, to which she remained deeply committed. She and her husband divorced in 1977.

In 1970 Lord took a job at Yale New Haven Hospital, co-leading support groups for parents of severely ill children and writing research papers on disparate topics, including a teenage girl’s right to refuse kidney dialysis and the impact on patients of the death their psychoanalysts. She later became research associate at the Yale Child Study Center, working on custody issues. In 1994, she collaborated with Dr. Albert J. Solnit and Barbara Nordhaus in publishing “When Home is No Haven.”

Lord spent 16 years with her second husband, John Grier Holmes ’34, a theater man and one-time head of the Yale Whiffenpoofs. At his urging, she wrote “Henry Francis duPont and Winterthur — A Daughter’s Portrait,” now in its fourth printing.

In it, she wrote:

“It is bewildering to attempt to understand and describe a human being — that is, to see the person as the end product of myriad inherent potentials, shaped by countless and continuing influences from outside. The wealth of material harbored in the Hagley archives about the generations that preceded Harry du Pont is as nothing compared to the vast repository of lore at Winterthur about the man himself. Perhaps one day someone will write a full-scale biography of him. For now, my hope is to do him justice in a small and personal way.”

Holmes died in 1997. In her mid-80s, duPont Lord by chance ran into her childhood friend and neighbor Harold G Haskell of Chadds Ford, and they became “partners for life” until her death.

Her friends and family recall Lord as someone who wrung the most out of life, with an upbeat spirit, irreverent sense of humor, deep friendships, and generosity to causes that included social welfare, education, the theater, and the environment.

In addition to her companion, Haskell, she is survived by Pauline Lord and David Harlow of East Lyme, Connecticut; George de F. and Gail Lord of Athens, Georgia; Henry Lord of New Haven; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held Aug. 16 at 3 p.m. at St. Ann’s Episcopal Church in Old Lyme, Connecticut. A second service will take place on Sept. 6 at 11 a.m. at Christ Church Christiana Hundred in Greenville, Delaware. Burial will be in the duPont Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Ruth duPont Lord’s memory to the Long Wharf Theatre or to the Albert J. Solnit Program at the Yale Child Study Center.