Ruth Cardoso, the former first lady of Brazil died in São Paulo on Tueday, June 24.

Jun 24, 2008

With a great sense of sadness, the Brazil Institute of the Wilson Center shares with its friends and colleagues of the Washington policy community the news of Dr. Ruth Cardoso's sudden and untimely passing.

A respected intellectual and educator, Dona Ruth, as she was affectionately known in Brazil, was a mentor to generations of social scientists in her country and around the world. A former professor at the University of São Paulo, she made her greatest mark as a discreet but influential First Lady (1995-2002), a title she did not like. Asked by her husband, President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, to supervise the social policies of his government, Dr. Cardoso disbanded the Legião Brasileira de Assistência, an ineffective federal institution which had been nominally headed by previous wives of presidents. In its place she created "Comunidade Solidaria." As the president of this new organization, she launched a concerted campaign to combat poverty and social exclusion in Brazil by promoting partnerships between government and civil society—a campaign she continued after returning to private life in 2003. A key element of this initiative was expanding a local conditional income transfer program (initially introduced by the government of Brasília, the country's capital) to the national level. That effort led to the creation of the successful network of social protection programs known today as "Bolsa Família."

Dr. Cardoso received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of São Paulo in 1972, and attended Columbia University as a Fulbright scholar for post-doctoral studies. She was a member of the Board of the United Nations Foundation. Dr. Cardoso was both a researcher and director of the Brazilian Center of Analysis and Planning (CEBRAP), a pioneering think tank her husband and other professors established in the early 1970s, with support from the Ford Foundation, after they were banned from teaching by the military regime that ruled the country. Dr. Cardoso was on the editorial board of Novos Estudos and a member of the Joint Committee on Latin American Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies. She was also a founding member of the Advisory Group of Harvard University's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies' Brazil Office.

Her academic positions included professorships at the City and Regional Planning Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Center for Latin American Studies at Cambridge University. In addition, she served on the Board of the Public Educational TV of the state of São Paulo; as counselor at the National Council of Women's Rights; and as member of the Independent Commission on Population and Quality of Life. She was the author of several articles on urban anthropology, social movements and the Third Sector.

On behalf of the Wilson Center, Director of the Brazil Institute, Paulo Sotero, who was traveling in Brazil at the time of Dr. Ruth's passing, presented our condolences to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso at the wake held in São Paulo. Dona Ruth was laid to rest in the morning of Thursday June 26 at Consolação cemetery, in the neighborhood where she lived with her husband. She was 77 years-old. Ruth and Fernando Henrique Cardoso were married for 55 years and had three children.


A recent op-ed published in O Estado de S.Paulo by journalist and a professor at USP, Gaudêncio Torquat, pays homage to Dr. Ruth Cardoso's legacy. Cecilia Soto, former Mexican Ambassador to Brazil, published a similar op-ed in remembrance of the late Dr. Ruth Cardoso. Likewise, Simon Schwartzman, former Wilson Center fellow and president of Instituto de Estudos do Trabalho e Sociedade, posted his sentiments on his personal blog.

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