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Businessman Otto Ruesch Dies; Cultural, Civic Philanthropist

By Louie Estrada
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 16, 2004; Page B06

Otto J. Ruesch, 64, a prominent Washington businessman who was well known for his philanthropic work on behalf of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, So Others Might Eat and a host of other organizations, died of pancreatic cancer Oct. 14 at his home in Chevy Chase.

Mr. Ruesch was founder, president and chairman of the board of Ruesch International Monetary Services Inc., a Washington-based financial services firm specializing in foreign exchange and precious metals.

Otto J. Ruesch's firm specialized in foreign exchange, precious metals.

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The Zurich-born former currency trader, who worked as an international banker before moving to the United States in 1965, opened his firm in 1980 with a few employees in a small office at 1140 19th St. NW. Until then, Washington's foreign exchange market had been dominated for about 10 years by his former employer, Deak-Perera, a New York investment firm.

Mr. Ruesch had been senior vice president of Deak-Perera's New York office and head of its Washington operation before striking out on his own. He focused his new business on providing international financial transaction services to a niche market of small- and medium-size companies dealing in international trade and currency.

He quickly built up the firm, opening branches in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, London, Prague and his native Switzerland. The firm manages more than $10 billion in cross-border transactions annually.

Mr. Ruesch was a hands-on executive who put in long workdays as recently as last week. In the evenings, he worked equally as hard on raising money for institutions he felt helped to strengthen Washington's cultural and civic life.

He had been a trustee of the Corcoran Gallery of Art since 1994 and was elected chairman of the board of trustees in 2003. From 1997 to 2002, he chaired the campaign steering committee, which under his guidance secured $60 million in gifts and pledges during the "quiet phase" of a fundraising campaign.

"In more than three decades of work in education and the arts, I have never met anyone who better understood the true meaning of stewardship and service or who did as much to put that understanding into practice," said David Levy, president and director of the Corcoran in a statement issued yesterday. Mr. Ruesch, he said, "believed fervently in the imperatives of goodness and his actions always were a response to this belief and to its implicit principles."

Mr. Ruesch and his wife, Jeanne, who also was chief operating officer of Ruesch International, co-chaired the Kennedy Center Spring Gala in 2001, an annual black-tie party featuring headline entertainment and dinner. The following year, he led an international fundraising initiative for the Kennedy Center.

Mr. Ruesch was chairman of the board of the Swiss-American Cultural Foundation; a member of the international advisory board for the Sellinger School of Business and Management at Loyola College in Baltimore; and a member of the boards of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington and the Arts of the Aging Inc., which coordinates arts programs for people with Alzheimer's and other ailments.

He was a financial contributor to the Washington Performing Arts Society, the Levine School of Music and So Others Might Eat, which honored Mr. Ruesch and his wife with its 2002 Humanitarian Award.

The two were also named Founders of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus for their support of Jesuit institutions in the Washington area, including Jesuit Volunteers International, Georgetown University, Gonzaga College High School and the Washington Jesuit Academy, a school for at-risk youths.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Matthew Ruesch and Christoph Ruesch, all of Chevy Chase.

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