Ruly Carpenter, champion Phillies owner, dies at 81
WILMINGTON – Robert R.M. “Ruly” Carpenter III, the owner and team president of the Philadelphia Phillies when the team won its first World Series in 1980 and a longtime supporter of the University of Delaware, died suddenly Sept. 13 at age 81.
As a descendant of the famed du Pont family and grandson of another Ruly Carpenter who purchased the Phillies baseball team in 1943, he was in some sense always destined to live in the public eye.
Growing up amid the professional baseball team under his grandfather and father, Carpenter ascended the team’s executive ranks until he took over as team president in 1972 from his father, Robert Jr. By then he had helped steer the Phillies toward future Hall of Famers like left fielder Greg Luzinski and third baseman Mike Schmidt.
During Carpenter’s tenure at the helm of the team, the Phillies won their division from 1976 to 1978, but lost in the National League Championship Series each year. They overcame that hurdle in 1980, beating the Houston Astros in the N.L.C.S. and then the Kansas City Royals in the World Series, giving Philadelphia its first World Series title.
The celebration was short-lived for the Carpenter family though, as Ruly would choose to sell the team in 1981 to an investment group led by Bill Giles for about $30 million. He would blame the rising costs of player contracts and the need to bring in more investors to continue on for the sale.
In his post-Phillies years, Carpenter is best remembered for his contributions to UD, where he served for 24 years on the university’s board of trustees starting in 1990 and was among the most generous benefactors to its athletics programs.
At UD, Carpenter carried on a family tradition, with his grandfather, Robert R.M. Carpenter Sr., and father, Robert R.M. Carpenter Jr., also serving on the university board. Two prominent campus buildings bear their names: The Carpenter Sports Building and the Bob Carpenter Sports/Convocation Center.
Ruly Carpenter led the fundraising campaign to build The Bob, a 5,000-seat facility that is home to the UD men’s and women’s basketball programs and women’s volleyball program. Edgar Johnson, who served as athletic director during that 1990-91 fundraising campaign for The Bob, said that Ruly was “instrumental” in securing the necessary funding for the $20.5 million project, meeting with other donors and pitching the project for support.
It was a role that he would reprise several times over the years, even after leaving the university board, including for the $2.5 million Bob Hannah Baseball Stadium and the $64 million Whitney Athletic Center. In recognition of his fundraising efforts, Carpenter was awarded in 2005 the university’s Medal of Distinction, which is presented to individuals who have given significant service to the University, the state and the region.
Despite losing a dear friend, Jerry Oravitz, UD’s associate director of athletics for major gifts and a friend for decades, can take solace in knowing that Carpenter was aware of the university’s plan to soon name the practice football field after him and his wife, Stephanie. He also got to give the Carpenters a tour of the new Whitney Athletic Center that surrounds Tubby Raymond Field.
“They were major gift donors to the project like they’ve been with most everything. Since the winter, I’ve been telling him to come down and I’d give him a personal tour of the building. He would always respond with, ‘OK, yeah sure’ – like one day he’d find the time to get around to it,” Oravitz recalled with a laugh. “His sons and daughter-in-law finally convinced him to get in the car so he could come by just three weeks ago.”
Oravitz recalled Carpenter as one of the Blue Hens football team’s biggest fans, who would show up from a morning of hunting in his camouflage to watch a practice session and never miss a Saturday game. Carpenter was in attendance at the Blue Hens’ Sept. 11 game against St. Francis University and was making plans to attend the following away game at Rutgers University when he passed.
“He gave you everything and asked for nothing,” Oravitz said. “The university lost a great piece of the fabric of our blue and gold.”
Chrissi Rawak, the current UD athletic director, said that Carpenter was one of the first people to call her after it was announced that she’d come from University of Michigan to take on the Blue Hens’ top athletic programming role in 2016. At the time, many fans were frustrated by lackluster results from many of the university’s teams and she wasn’t sure how one of UD’s biggest boosters might greet her.
“Some folks wag a finger in your face and tell you that’s what they want, but he wanted to be a part of the solution and he wanted to know how he could help,” she recalled.
Rawak too said that she was pleased Carpenter could see the fruits of his labors in the opening of the Whitney Athletic Center this year. He both personally contributed to the project and helped university officials solicit other donations that helped finance the major addition to UD’s football stadium.
“He understood that [a project like the Whitney] was going to be necessary for our programs to be successful in the way that he and so many others expect,” she said. “Ruly was instrumental in getting us to a place we needed to be in order to put shovels in the ground.”
As a Newtown Square, Pa., native, Rawak shared a special relationship with Carpenter. Her parents were at Veterans Stadium in 1980 when the Phillies won the World Series, and a mug from the game still sits in her office today.
“My dad got a real kick out of [me working with Ruly],” she said. “Talking with Ruly and having cookies and tea at his house was a fun story to be able to share with my dad.”
In his post-Phillies years, Carpenter was also a proponent of his private high school alma mater, Tower Hill School in Wilmington, where the school’s baseball stadium is named in his honor and he served as a longtime assistant coach.
“Tower Hill School has been fortunate to have had Ruly in our community and lives. He cared deeply about the school, and he spent many hours in the stands and on the sidelines cheering on Tower Hill’s teams,” said Elizabeth Speers, the head of school. “Ruly had an exquisite combination of gentleness and strength, of wisdom and whimsy, and of seriousness of purpose and good old-fashioned fun. Ruly’s legacy runs deep at Tower Hill, and his spirit will be forever felt around campus and within our hearts.”
Carpenter was inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and Tower Hill plans to soon inducted him into its inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame as well.