On Nov. 2 the organist at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church played a tender rendition of “Shenandoah” at the funeral of True Farr Luck as her husband of 64 years, Charles S. Luck III, a longtime executive of Luck Stone Corp., led family members into the sanctuary. Some 700 other admirers packed the pews to say goodbye to a daughter of Roanoke who was a smart, generous, cheerful and indispensible leader in philanthropy and the arts in Richmond for more than half a century. She died Oct. 28 at 85.
Luck’s early love of music and the visual arts was fostered by her mother in western Virginia. But it was in the 21st century that her passion and generosity proved transformational for the arts and sciences in this city. She and her husband contributed $1.5 million to the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her benevolence to the Visual Arts Center of Richmond set the table for that organization’s achievement of excellence as a leading educational arts force in the state. More recently, she made a $2 million lead gift to establish the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University.
“She loved surrounding herself with beauty,” says a granddaughter in eulogizing Luck, “She dove head-first into everything she said ‘yes’ to.”
Like scores of Richmond ladies, one of Luck’s earliest community activities was serving on the Council of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Among her tasks in the 1970s was greeting visitors and answering telephones at the information desk in the museum’s lobby.
“We volunteered together and were asked all kinds of questions. We were supposed to know everything,” her friend Patsy Pettus, herself a leading local arts supporter, says after Luck’s death, suggesting they knew they were in over their heads. “One time we even got a call from Italy. Finally, we saw to it that the telephones were being answered by the right people with the right answers.”
Luck also volunteered in the VMFA library. “She was a lot fun, she had a sense of humor about things” says Betty Stacy, a retired librarian. “She wasn’t someone who just absorbed things, she contributed ideas and went ahead and made good suggestions.”
It was when her children were taking classes at the Hand Work Shop, since renamed the Visual Arts Center, that Luck came to appreciate that organization’s ambitions. A substantial gift from the Lucks resulted in the institution’s new main gallery being named for her. Apparently, the gift was significant enough that some suggested the center itself be renamed in her honor. Luck squelched the idea.
Her early support of the ICA, the construction of which was financed by private funds, sparked major gifts from others.
“True was all-in on the ICA project from the very start,” says Pamela Royall, a co-founder and major contributor to the center with her husband, William. “True was dedicated to two things: The ICA had to pay appropriate tribute to Beverly Reynolds [the late Richmond gallerist who long advocated for establishing such a VCU arts center]. And second, that it have a ‘visionary’ space for artists and performers to work. The idea that a ‘provocateur’ space be established on the third floor was her idea and the ICA has delivered on that dream.”
Says William Royall, who’s spent much of his life involved in politics: “A politician is always appreciative of supportive people who are ‘in early.’ You really remember those people. True was ‘in early’ at the ICA. The whole room would light up when she walked into development meetings.”
Friends and family agree that it was not just what Luck did, but how she did it that was important. She was fashionable and enjoyed being well-turned-out. In fact, at the funeral her daughters and granddaughters wore outfits from her closet.
“She had joyous enthusiasm,” William Royall says.
Abby Moore, himself an art collector and early supporter of the ICA, who worked with Luck in fundraising for the center, says: “She was part of old Richmond, but her mind was new Richmond.”