Dorrance Hill Hamilton, 89, the billionaire Campbell's Soup heiress whose generous hats and more generous philanthropy made her a spirited presence in society and cultural circles of Philadelphia and Newport, died Tuesday morning at her home in Boca Grande, Fla., after an illness.
“She set an example for what it meant to be a philanthropist in this town,” said Patricia D. Wellenbach, president and CEO of the Please Touch Museum, where Mrs. Hamilton stepped in at critical times. “She brought great joy to Philadelphia and beyond. Think of all the work she did with the Flower Show, her work with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Please Touch Museum, the Zoo. I don’t think there was a corner of the city that she hasn’t touched."
Mrs. Hamilton was the first woman to be named to the board of Thomas Jefferson University, and Wellenbach commended her for her investment "in educating doctors and nurses of the future" there, saying "She was so expansive in her understanding of her role.”
Known as “Dodo” – a nickname she received from her mother – Mrs. Hamilton was a familiar figure at the Philadelphia Flower Show for more than three decades, and leaves the city and region dotted with new buildings, gardens, and other spaces bearing the Hamilton name.
“She was a woman of vision, she put her mind to a project and it was done,” said her daughter, Margaret Hamilton Duprey.
In addition to giving to arts, horticulture and education, Mrs. Hamilton was guided by “giving people a break — giving them hope that they can better themselves through education and to give them a better place in life,” said son S. Matthews V. Hamilton Jr. “She instilled in me and my sister and brother the importance of giving back, and we’ve instilled it in our children, I hope.”
Born in New York, and raised there and at Bois Dore (“Golden Doors”), a 36-room formal French estate in Newport, Mrs. Hamilton was the granddaughter of John T. Dorrance, who invented the soup-condensing process and became president of the Campbell Soup Company in 1914.
Her family spent weekends from fall to spring in Radnor, where her grandparents' estate, Woodcrest (now the site of Cabrini University), helped establish her love of horticulture, according to a biography provided by the Hamilton Family Foundation.
She attended Foxcroft, a boarding school in Virginia for young ladies, where she met her future husband, Samuel M. V. Hamilton, whose grandfather was president of Baldwin Locomotive Works. They married in 1950. He became a brokerage executive for the firm now known as Janney Montgomery Scott, and died in 1997.
Mrs. Hamilton had homes in Wayne, Newport, and Boca Grande off the west coast of Florida. Her net worth was recently estimated by Forbes at $1.26 billion.
Her involvement with Thomas Jefferson University stretched over decades. Among other roles, she was president of the Women’s Board from 1969 to 1972, oversaw an expansion of Pennywise Thrift Shop, and took on fund-raising for the heliport on Foerderer Pavilion.
Mrs. Hamilton gave the lead gift — $25 million – to help create the building at Jefferson that bears her name to help facilitate team-based training of doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals.
In addition to son S. Matthews V. Hamilton Jr. and daughter Margaret Hamilton Duprey, she is survived by son Nathaniel Peter Hamilton, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Services have not yet been announced.
Read more by Stephan Salisbury