Ruth A. Sliwinski, 86, a grand dame of the Philadelphia charitable social scene who stepped down as president of the Hero Scholarship Fund in 2007 after 40 years with the organization, died May 7 of lymphoma at Martins Run Retirement Community in Media, where she had been for two weeks. She lived in Wynnewood.

"There was hardly a major charitable social event or a disease Ruth did not raise money for in the past 40 years," said longtime friend Sandra Kenton. Mrs. Sliwinski's name regularly appeared in boldface type on the society pages as a major player in Philadelphia.

"You could not miss Ruth in a room," said David Rohde, a Hero Scholarship Fund board member for 20 years. "She was the lovely lady in the huge, floppy hat with such flair."

Mrs. Sliwinski's departure from the Hero Scholarship Fund was part of a shake-up between the fund and its primary money-making event, the Thrill Show, which was canceled in 2006.

The fund was formed in 1954 to provide full college scholarships for the children of Philadelphia firefighters and police officers killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty.

Since 2006, after the Thrill Show was canceled, the fund has been paying for scholarships off the interest of a $3.2 million endowment.

Philadelphia lawyer Jim Binns heads a new, autonomous Hero Thrill Show that firefighters and police back.

Mrs. Sliwinski, who was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, moved to Norristown as a child and graduated from Norristown High School in 1941. In 1950, she founded a small nursery school and kindergarten in Southwest Philadelphia, which she ran until 1978.

In 1952 she married Inquirer advertising executive Richard Sliwinski. When he retired, they operated Meredith Agency Public Relations out of their Wynnefield home for about five years. The agency was named after their daughter, Meredith, who has Down syndrome and lives at Elwyn, a care facility for the disabled.

The glamorous couple were regulars at society galas for the Wistar Institute, USO, Red Cross, Saunders House, Lankenau Service League, the Heart Ball, Inglis House, Plays and Players, Elwyn, and others.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Sliwinski is survived by a sister, Dorothy Flynn, and her longtime companion, Ernie Welde. Her husband died in 1990.

A memorial service will be at 11 a.m. May 23 at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, 625 Montgomery Ave. Donations may be made to Elwyn Development Office, 111 Elwyn Rd., Elwyn, Pa. 19063

Contact staff writer Gayle Ronan Sims at gsims@phillynews.com or 215-854-4185.