This past week, I learned with great sadness of the passing of Toni Ritzenberg, a dear and devoted friend to this museum, and to me. Toni was a passionate supporter of this museum, and her major gifts to our National Museum of African Art over the past many years have made our exhibitions and educational programs possible. Simply—we could not have done it without her.
Toni’s generosity did not just extend to this museum, but to many other institutions here in D.C. and around the country. Toni cared deeply about the theater and the arts, and about giving more children access to them. But perhaps most importantly, Toni’s support has allowed our staff and myself to get to know her personally, and this friendship was her greatest gift. Toni was smart and independent and vibrant. Her zest for life was undeniable, and contagious. She had an incredible sense of humor; a visit from Toni guaranteed she’d leave you laughing. Toni was strong-willed, living a life that crisscrossed from coast to coast on her own terms, promoting the arts and making friends wherever she went.
We at this museum were lucky enough to be the recipient of that friendship. Every place that life led Toni, she left behind better. There is no doubt that that is true of our museum, and of me. We will always be grateful. As the African proverb says, “Those whose names we still call can never truly pass.” Toni, here at our National Museum of African Art, we will never stop calling your name.
Johnnetta Betsch Cole
Director, National Museum of African Art