Virginia Ramo, a USC alumna, life trustee and 2002 recipient of the university’s highest honor, the Presidential Medallion, died Aug. 19. She was 93.
A prominent patron of the arts, education and medicine, Ramo extended her support – both intellectual and financial – to institutions throughout Southern California and beyond. As co-founder of the Ramo Foundation, her philanthropy helped create the Virginia Ramo Hall of Music on USC’s University Park campus and Ramo Auditorium at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, as well as endowed chairs, awards and scholarship funds at several other universities.
Elected to the USC Board of Trustees in 1971, Ramo served as vice chairman of the board from 1986 to 1991. She also contributed to numerous committees, including the student affairs committee, where she helped select Trustee Scholars. During her years of service on the board, Ramo’s husband, Simon (the “R” in TRW and the 1983 recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom) also acted as an adviser to USC’s senior administration.
“Virginia Ramo has not only been a generous benefactor to USC, but equally, if not more important, her spirit and steadfast dedication to the university were an inspiration for everyone, whether on our Health Sciences or our University Park campus,” said USC President Steven B. Sample. “Her passion for medical science as well as for art was particularly pivotal to our progress as an institution. She possessed an abundance of grace and charisma, and I don’t exaggerate when I say that everyone simply loved Virginia.”
Ramo enrolled at USC as a business major, with the initial goal of becoming a corporate executive. As a student, she joined the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority and played saxophone in the Trojan band. She also worked her way through college playing in a woman’s orchestra.
Although she eventually changed her major to education – and spent eight years teaching high school in New York after graduating with teaching credentials in 1937 – music remained a lifelong passion. At her alma mater, she extended her support to programs ranging from annual giving to medical research, but she endearingly referred to the USC Thornton School of Music as “her” school.
“From my first day as dean, Virginia was there to advise, counsel and help me,” said Robert A. Cutietta, dean of the USC Thornton School. “She was willing to make calls on my behalf, make introductions or just offer her perspective on decisions I was pondering. I will miss her.”
Ramo’s initial involvement as an alumna was with a support group of USC College. Later, as co-chair of the university’s annual fund program for 1969-70 and 1970-71, she was a driving force in USC’s receipt of the U.S. Steel award for sustained performance in annual giving in 1971.
That same year, she and her husband endowed the Ramo Music Faculty Award, which is given each May to an outstanding faculty member at the USC Thornton School of Music. The endowment provides each honoree with $10,000 to support professional development.
Ground was broken for Ramo’s namesake building at USC in 1973, and the Virginia Ramo Hall of Music was dedicated in 1974. The first of a four-unit performing arts complex, the three-level structure was designed by William L. Pereira Associates and incorporated state-of-the-art acoustics within its teaching studios.
Another distinguishing feature of the building was the inclusion of special suites for the university’s star music faculty of the time, violinist Jascha Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky, who also had a hand in the suites’ design. Today, Midori Goto occupies the Heifetz Suite, which includes not only a private restroom but also a warm-up space for students.
Ramo contributed $1 million, through the Ramo Foundation, to cover half of the construction costs for Ramo Hall. She also took an unusual extra precaution to ensure the building’s success. In a private ceremony, she and Heifetz buried one of the master’s violin bows in the foundation – the location of which remains a secret to this day.
From 1976 to 1980, Ramo provided leadership as co-chair of the university-wide Toward Century II fund-raising campaign. The drive, which concluded in USC’s centennial celebration, brought in $309 million – a record for the university at the time.
Ramo stepped forward again in 1999, when she and her husband became the inaugural chairs of the newly created Board of Overseers for the university’s medical school. The school had just been renamed the Keck School of Medicine of USC in recognition of an historic $110 million gift from the W. M. Keck Foundation, where Simon Ramo was a longtime director.
More recently, Virginia Ramo made a second $1 million gift to the USC Thornton School – this time honoring her husband, also a lover of music and an accomplished musician in his own right. Funds were used to renovate an existing rehearsal room in Booth Memorial Hall. The new Simon Ramo Recital Hall was dedicated earlier this year.
Throughout all of this time, Virginia Ramo continued to serve USC as a trustee and also as a member of the boards of the USC Davis School of Gerontology, the Doheny Eye Institute and Friends of the USC Libraries.
Outside the university, Ramo participated on the boards of the Los Angeles Opera, United Way, KCET and Muses of the Los Angeles County Museum of Science and Industry. She also served as vice president of both the Founders and the Blue Ribbon of the Music Center, the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, and she was an honorary Blue Ribbon board member. As national president of the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Foundation, she spearheaded establishment of the organization’s chapters in Denver and Chicago in 1976 and 1977.
At USC, Ramo received an Alumni Service Award in 1971 and in 1986 was singled out for the USC Alumni Association’s highest honor, the Asa V. Call Achievement Award. The university granted her an honorary doctor of humane letters degree in 1978.
Together with her husband, she was a recipient of the USC Thornton School of Music’s Founders Award in 1979, and the couple also received the Presidential Medallion, awarded to a select few who have brought honor and distinction to the university, in 2002.
Virginia Ramo is survived by her husband, Simon, sons James and Alan and four grandchildren.
Private family services are planned, and a celebration of her life will be held on the University Park campus this fall.
Memorial donations may be made to the Virginia Ramo Scholarship Fund at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, 1975 Zonal Ave., KAM 300, Los Angeles, CA 90089.
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