Longtime Morse Museum Director, Laurence J. Ruggiero, has passed away

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Longtime Morse Museum Director, Laurence J. Ruggiero, has passed away
Laurence J. Ruggiero.

WINTER PARK, FLA.- The Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation Board of Trustees is deeply saddened to share the loss of Dr. Laurence J. Ruggiero, 74, former Director of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, who passed away peacefully on Thursday, March 23.

Ruggiero was appointed Associate Director of the Morse by Hugh F. McKean (1908–95) in 1992 and then Director by the Museum’s Board of Trustees in 1995. He will be long remembered for his fidelity to the scope and quality of the Museum’s collection, a reflection of the interests, personalities, and ideals of the Museum’s founder Jeannette Genius McKean (1909–89) and Hugh McKean, the Museum’s first Director. Under Ruggiero’s direction, the Morse collection, its programs, and its stature grew. The Museum completed significant projects, including the Morse’s current Park Avenue location which opened in 1995, the expansion and conservation of Tiffany’s 1893 chapel which opened in 1999, the 2006 seminal exhibition Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate done in collaboration with The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, and the 2011 12,000-square-foot Museum expansion. In 2017, the Morse celebrated its 75th anniversary, and Ruggiero organized an exhibition reflecting the McKeans’ legacy and their vision that the Museum’s continuing mission should be to make art a daily part of the lives of the people of this community. “When I think of all we have done, the staff, the board and all who have been associated with the Morse, I am overcome,” Ruggiero said in a memo to staff in February. “Working with you all has been the greatest gift any professional could be given and to be given this gift for thirty years is beyond the hopes and dreams of virtually anyone!” The Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation Board of Trustees honors Ruggiero for his strong leadership. Randy Rush, President of the Foundation, remembers Larry as having the rare combination of skills and talents that were needed to serve the Morse Museum so well for so long. Rush also said that “I will always remember and be grateful to Larry for his dedication to making sure that the Museum and its exhibitions and programs were true to the vision of the McKeans, and for Larry’s stewardship of the Morse. We will also miss his very keen sense of humor.”

Harold Ward, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Morse Foundation, recalled Larry’s work with Hugh McKean, the Morse Museum’s Director when Larry first became associated with the Museum. “He brought the unique combination of graduate degrees in both art and business, as well as substantial experience as a museum director, culminating with his service as Director of the Ringling Museum in Sarasota which he left to come to Winter Park. When Larry became Director of the Morse at Hugh McKean’s death, he combined that background with his close work with Hugh to bring the Morse to its present status as both a wonderful community asset, and recognition as a worldwide collection of American art. I am extremely grateful for the privilege of my association with Larry during his many years of service with the Morse.”

As part of the succession plan initiated in 2021 by the Museum’s Board of Trustees, upon Ruggerio’s retirement on February 28 of this year, Jennifer Perry Thalheimer was appointed on March 1 as Museum Director and Chief Curator of the Morse. Since 1999, Thalheimer has been preserving the Museum's collection while researching Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) and, more broadly, American decorative art. She is internationally recognized as a specialist on Tiffany’s life and art, has lectured extensively, contributed articles to national publications, and has curated over twenty-seven exhibitions at the Museum. Two others joined the executive leadership team with Thalheimer. Betsy Peters is now Museum Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer, and Tom Mobley is now Director of Facilities and Security. As senior staff members under Ruggiero for more than twenty years each, their shared institutional knowledge will provide a strong foundation for the Museum’s future. Rush commented that “the Trustees of the Morse Foundation are very pleased that the Morse will continue to be in the excellent hands of Jennifer, Betsy, and Tom, and that they, together with all of the staff of the Morse, will continue to bring to reality the benefaction of Jeannette and Hugh McKean to our community in the same manner as Larry has done during his long and successful tenure at the Morse.”

Ruggiero is survived by his wife, Virginia, and son John. A service honoring Ruggiero will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Wednesday, March 29, at St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Winter Park. Condolences may be sent to the family in care of the Museum.

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