The museum was saddened to learn of the passing of trustee emeritus LeBurta Atherton on Oct. 22 at the age of 100. She joined the board of trustees in 1986 and served until 2014. During that time, she was instrumental in helping the museum through financial rough patches, most notably with a large gift for operations following the 2008 global economic crisis, which had caused the museum to lose a third of its endowment.
Born LeBurta Gates in Denver, the tire heiress and her family began spending time in Honolulu when she was a toddler. She married Alexander S. Atherton and was a dedicated volunteer and philanthropist. In 2014, the Hawai‘i chapter of the Red Cross honored her for more than 50 years of service, which began during World War II when she made bandages and helmet covers for soldiers.
“My daddy felt we should give, since we were lucky and well off,” she often said. “You get more enjoyment out of your life if you give. I have found that to be true.”
“She was a very generous, loyal, and genuine person,” says museum trustee Lynne Johnson. “She came through in difficult times, and she helped establish giving at a higher level as part of the museum’s Visionary Circle.”
Even as a nonagenarian she retained the spritely air of a gamine, her soft white waves framing her face. She never lost her wonder in art. With her eyesight failing, in 2013 she asked staff to lead her on a tour of Artists of Hawai‘i, describing the art along the way. As words created an image of a neon sign by artist Drew Broderick that alternated between a shaka sign and an obscene gesture, a mischievous smile appeared on her face. And in 2015, she took a touch tour of the exhibition August Rodin: The Human Experience with docent Lena Galbraith, feeling the sculptures with gloved hands and commenting on their texture and “how wonderful that children can come to see this exhibition.” Her gracious presence in the museum will be greatly missed.