Elizabeth Gray Danforth, wife of Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and first lady of Washington University for nearly a quarter century, passed away on Wednesday, March 30, 2005, of cancer. She was 75.
Known as “Ibby” to her friends and to the campus community, she became a tireless ambassador for the University when her husband was named vice chancellor for medical affairs in 1965 and then chancellor in 1971.
“Ibby Danforth was one of the great citizens of Washington University and of St. Louis,” Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton said. “There are just not enough words to describe her warmth, her compassion, and the lasting impression that she left on every person she met.
“When you were with Ibby Danforth, you felt special and you knew you were with a very special person. Washington University is a much better place because of her work here for nearly half a century. She will be missed by many and remembered by all who had the honor to know her.”
A native St. Louisan, Ibby Danforth graduated from John Burroughs School and then attended Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she earned an undergraduate degree in June 1950. That September she married William Danforth, who was starting his last year at Harvard University Medical School.
Upon their return to St. Louis in 1951, she embarked upon a lifelong commitment to the community and to Washington University, supporting her husband in his career of intern, Navy physician, medical resident, faculty member, vice chancellor for medical affairs, chancellor and chair of the University’s Board of Trustees.
To stay in touch with the students she loved, Danforth took classes and attended numerous lectures, performances and student-sponsored events throughout the 24 years that her husband was chancellor — 1971-1995.
To stay in touch with alumni and the St. Louis and corporate communities, she hosted and participated in hundreds of receptions and events throughout the world.
In recognition of her volunteer efforts, Danforth received numerous awards, including the University’s William Greenleaf Eliot Society Search Award in 1987.
In 1995, The Women’s Society of Washington University named in her honor a scholarship fund to assist community college students seeking to transfer to WUSTL. The fund had originally been established in 1976 and was renamed in her honor as an expression of gratitude for all she did as the University’s “first lady.”
In 1996, Ibby’s Garden — the Elizabeth Gray Danforth Butterfly Garden, at the southeast corner of Forsyth Boulevard and Wallace Drive — was dedicated in her honor, a gift to the University from The Woman’s Club of Washington University.
“Her enjoyment of the garden is so apparent in photos of a picnic lunch when she and Bill Danforth were the first couple to sit on a Japanese bench created in fall 2003 as an architecture school student project,” said Jean Davis, one of the primary Woman’s Club volunteers who helped start and now maintain Ibby’s Garden. “The Woman’s Club hopes that visitors to the garden will remember the welcoming warmth that was Ibby Danforth.”
When William Danforth retired as chancellor in 1995, alumni, parents, faculty, staff and friends of the University established the William H. and Elizabeth Gray Danforth Scholars Program, which makes significant scholarships available for students in each of the University’s schools.
Also in 1995, the University named the largest residence for undergraduate students the Elizabeth Gray Danforth House in her honor. That same year, she and her husband were named to the Washington University Sports Hall of Fame for dedicated support and revitalization of its athletic programs.
Other honors were bestowed upon the Danforths, including the Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Service Award in 2002 to recognize their commitment to the St. Louis region.
“Ibby served our community unstintingly, demonstrating a devotion and commitment far beyond the call of duty,” said John F. McDonnell, retired chairman of the board of McDonnell Douglas Corp., chairman of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1999-2004 and currently vice chairman. “For all of us — alumni, students, faculty and staff alike — she exemplified the finest qualities of personal leadership by engaging everyone she met and becoming our ambassador to graduates around the world.
“We will truly miss her, and we always will remember her exceptional service to Washington University.”
Other honors accorded to Danforth include the 1983 St. Louis Wellesley Award, the 1989 Outstanding Alumna Award from John Burroughs School and the 1990 St. Louis Woman of Achievement Award for Youth Enrichment.
Danforth served as a member of John Burroughs School’s board of trustees and alumni board. In addition, she served as president of the Wellesley Club of St. Louis. She also was as a member of the board of the Community School.
Danforth was a life patron of the Eliot Society and served as a member of the boards of the Women’s Society and the Woman’s Club.
A visitation will be held from 4-7 p.m. April 1 at Lupton Chapel, 7233 Delmar Blvd. in University City.
A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. April 10 in Graham Chapel, followed by a reception in Holmes Lounge.
In addition to her husband of 54 years, survivors include three daughters, Cynthia Prather of Anniston, Ala., Maebelle Reed of Tucson, Ariz., and Elizabeth Sankey of Ladue, Mo.; a son, David Danforth of Clayton; a sister, Dr. Mary Jane Gray of Philomath, Ore.; and 13 grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that gifts be made to Washington University for the Danforth Scholars Program, Washington University, Campus Box 1228, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130; the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, 975 N. Warson Road, St. Louis, MO 63132; or to any other charity of the donor’s choice.