The Central Florida art community is honoring the life of Dr. Laurence J. Ruggiero, who held the directorship of the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art for nearly 30 years.
“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,” read a press statement.
Ruggiero’s February 28 retirement marked the end of an era that included some of the museum’s most transformational endeavors:
- 1995: Opening the current Park Avenue location
- 1999: Completing the conservation of Tiffany’s 1893 chapel
- 2006: Collaborating with the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Laurelton Hall: An Artist’s Country Estate exhibit
- 2011: Completion of a 12,000-square-foot museum expansion
Born in Patterson, NJ, Ruggiero developed an appreciation of art during a family trip to Italy. He majored in English at the University of Pennsylvania, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1969. He then began post-graduate studies in philosophy and art history, earning a doctorate and a master’s degree, respectively, in 1975. He later enrolled in the Questrom School of Business at Boston University, earning a master’s degree in business administration in 1979.
Ruggiero served as assistant to the president of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1979 to 1981. He then moved to California where he served as director of the Oakland Museum Association until 1985, when he accepted the directorship of the John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art.
In 1992, Ruggiero was appointed associate director of the Morse Museum by its first director, Hugh F. McKean — husband of Jeannette Genius McKean, museum founder and granddaughter of Charles Hosmer Morse. Upon Hugh’s passing in 1995, Ruggiero was appointed museum director by the Board of Trustees and saw to his new duties according to the founders’ vision.
“He took it to the next level, always with Hugh and Jeannette in mind,” said former Morse Museum director of public affairs and content consultant Catherine Hinman, who worked with Ruggiero from 1999 to 2021. “He forwarded the McKeans’ mission in ways they might not have even imagined in terms of presenting the collection and educating the community.”
“He brought the unique combination of graduate degrees in both art and business, as well as substantial experience as a museum director,” said Morse Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman Harold Ward in a prepared statement. “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.”
“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,” said Foundation President Randy Rush in a prepared statement.
Upon his retirement, Ruggiero expressed his feelings in a memo to museum staff and Board members:
“When I think of all we have done, the staff, the board and all who have been associated with the Morse, I am overcome. 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!”
“He was fun to work for; he was brilliant, he was funny, he was a wonderful teacher,” said Hinman. “The museum is beautiful because of Larry.”
Ruggiero is survived by his wife, Virginia, and son John. A service in his honor 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.