Caroline Ahmanson, 83, a leading philanthropist in Southern California who supported art institutions and school programs with equal fervor, died June 21 at her home in Beverly Hills, Calif. She had Alzheimer's disease.

Mrs. Ahmanson was the widow of financier Howard F. Ahmanson, who founded Home Savings and Loan and the Ahmanson Foundation.

In addition to her philanthropic work, Mrs. Ahmanson was one of the first women to chair a Federal Reserve bank. Appointed in 1981, she oversaw the San Francisco Federal Reserve and recommended changes in the Federal Reserve's discount rate. She served until 1984.

Through much of her life, Mrs. Ahmanson was a vigorous supporter of causes including education, conservation and the arts. She was especially proud of her efforts to start Los Angeles County High School for the Arts.

Mrs. Ahmanson was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Starting during the Nixon administration, she served as a delegate to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. A close friend of Nixon, Reagan and their families, she served for several years as chairwoman of the President's Council of the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace Foundation.

Over the years, she was a board member of some of the largest companies and arts institutions in Southern California, including the Walt Disney Co., the Fluor Corp., the Carter Hawley Hale Stores and the Music Center.

Born in San Francisco, she attended the University of California at Berkeley before she became a fashion expert, featured regularly on Art Linkletter's radio and television programs. She founded Caroline Leonetti Ltd., a charm school and modeling agency in Los Angeles.

She married Ben Heim in 1940, and they had one child, Margo, before they divorced. She married Ahmanson in 1965.