On April 19, the Aquarium lost a lifelong friend and ardent supporter with the passing at her home of pioneering Chattanooga businesswoman and civic leader Ruth Holmberg. She was 96 years old.
From 2005 to 2009, Holmberg was a member of the Tennessee Aquarium’s board of trustees. An avid patron of the Aquarium from its earliest years, she pledged her financial support in 1993 during its infancy. Later in life, she made additional, significant contributions and retained her membership until her death.
Ruth Holmberg, at right, attends a special advance preview of Ocean Journey's Penguin Rock exhibit in 2007.
“The Aquarium was filling a need that wasn’t there … and doing it in a first-class manner,” Holmberg told a reporter during a 2011 interview at her home on the riverfront. “The Aquarium highlights downtown Chattanooga and generates enthusiasm for residents and tourists.
“[It’s] the last thing I see at night when I turn out the lights.”
Aquarium President and CEO Keith Sanford never served alongside Holmberg, although he did follow in her wake as a board member for several organizations after she left them. She was, he says, a ubiquitous and influential force in Chattanooga and a woman he fondly remembers for “her graciousness, her smile, her wit and her humbleness.”
“I think she left a strong impression on a lot of people,” Sanford says. “You can’t go anywhere in Chattanooga, particularly downtown, without seeing something she and her husband [Bill Holmberg] were involved in. She touched everything. We’re losing an icon, and she will be sorely missed.”
Holmberg was the granddaughter of Adolph Ochs, who purchased the Chattanooga Times in the late 1800s and later acquired a controlling stake in the New York Times, helping to establish it as one of the world’s most-read newspapers. She served as publisher of the Chattanooga publication from 1964 to 1992. According to a New York Times obituary, she remained publisher emeritus and chairwoman of the Chattanooga Times until its merger with the Chattanooga Free Press in 1999.
From the podium of the Times’ editorial page, Holmberg stalwartly championed numerous causes, such as arts and education, environmentalism, racial integration and the renaissance of downtown Chattanooga. She also was active on the boards of many other civic and cultural organizations, including the Hunter Museum of American Art and the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera.
Heritage Funeral Home on East Brainerd Road is handling the funeral arrangements. A memorial service will be held Monday, April 24, at Girls Preparatory School with a reception to follow at the Hunter Museum at an as-yet-undesignated time.