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An Unexpected Gift. A Fascinating Life.

The Linn Foundation’s Gift to the COVID-19 Response Fund

July 22, 2020

One of the largest gifts to the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund was a contribution of $500,000 from a foundation no one at the Boston Foundation had heard of prior to the gift. It’s called the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation and, until its remarkably generous grant, it had quietly supported veteran’s issues, higher education and other issues since 2001. 

The Linn Foundation was established by a woman who led a fascinating life, had a pioneering career and eventually became a philanthropist.  

Black and white headshot of Ruby Linn. She is wearing a military uniform, smiling.
Ruby W. Linn. Photo courtesy of Ruby Linn biography , "Lt. Col. Ruby Winslow Linn; Doubling a Life of Service" by Linda Smith Rhoads
Ruby Winslow Linn was born in 1910 in a small town of just 300 people called Myricks in southeastern Massachusetts. By 1928, she had already set her sights far beyond New England. Had she lived today, she most likely would have been drawn to science, maybe even enrolled at MIT. As it was, her options were limited at a time when very few women went to college at all. She enrolled in Simmons College, drawn to their program in home economics, which was defined as “the scientific management of a family’s household resources.” In 1932, having received a bachelor’s degree as well as all of the necessary medical authorizations, she began a dietetic internship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. 

Ruby’s work was inspired by none other than Florence Nightingale, who had reorganized army hospital kitchens during the Crimean War. At Walter Reed, she took classes in biology, bacteriology and hospital ethics. She went on to serve in army and veteran hospitals in Illinois, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and Texas. 

All of her hard work organizing military kitchens—determining whether the diets of soldiers were adequate and sometimes even cooking the meals herself—was done without the benefit of military status. But in 1942, as WWII was raging and the Army was short of dietitians, it recognized their importance by granting them temporary military status for the duration of the war. Military status was made permanent five years later in 1947.

Over the decades Ruby worked her way up the ranks, eventually becoming a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Medical Specialist Corps. Her final position was back at Walter Reed. She retired in 1963 after 30 years of service and 20 years as a commissioned officer. 

Within three years of her retirement, Ruby met her husband and discovered a second career. Both 55, Colonel LaVon P. Linn and Ruby had a great deal in common, including an interest in philanthropy. They both agreed that values were far more important than material possessions. Community was at the heart of their lives. 

Their benevolence benefited Ruby’s alma mater (Simmons College), her profession (the American Dietetic Association) and her country. In 1985, LaVon Linn died after a long battle with cancer. Barely two weeks later, applauded for her “untiring devotion and tenacious commitments to a myriad of causes that benefit the society in which we all live,” Ruby Linn was granted an honorary doctorate from Simmons College. 

In 1990, at the age of 80, Ruby entered a planned community developed exclusively for retired officers of the U.S. Armed Services. She died there on December 12, 2011 at the age of 101 and in her will left the bulk of her estate to the Ruby W. and Lavon P. Linn Foundation. 

In making the gift to the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, the trustees of the Linn Foundation expressed confidence that if Ruby Linn were alive today, she would be lining up to support the work of those who are responding to the coronavirus crisis and maybe even running one of the many new kitchens established to distribute food during this crisis. The Linn Foundation’s grant was in keeping with the spirit of a devoted life of service and a deep commitment to community.