Thalia Noras Carlos, 83: Love of arts fueled family philanthropy

Emory University's Michael C. Carlos Museum bears the name of its major benefactor but it was his wife's love of the arts that inspired much of his philanthropy.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Carlos told his wife Thalia that he wanted to contribute something to Atlanta that would serve as a legacy and tribute to his Greek heritage. She suggested a museum.

"He was crazy about being Greek," said Chris Carlos, the couple's only child. "Keeping the Greek culture and traditions around, that's how the Carlos Museum came about. It was something he could brand and now it promotes Egyptian, Greek and other cultures."

Today, the Carlos Museum enjoys an international reputation and has been cited as a top university venue in classical art. Philanthropists Michael C. and Thalia Carlos donated money, time and energy to support it and left other civic imprints through various charities.

"For the last decade, Thalia has urged us and supported us in our efforts to build world-class collections," said museum director Bonnie Speed. "They would go out looking for works of art and they had discussions about all the acquisitions."

Thalia Noras Carlos of Atlanta died Sunday from complications of a stroke she suffered several weeks ago. She was 83. Her funeral will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Northside United Methodist Church. H.M. Patterson & Son, Spring Hill Chapel, is in charge of arrangements.

The Carloses knew each other in childhood and grew up in Atlanta's Greek community. They were married nearly 39 years and when he died of lung cancer in 2002, the duo had created a legacy rooted in the arts community.

Mrs. Carlos' favorite beneficiaries were the Woodward Academy, the Carlos Museum and the Atlanta Ballet. The $10.9 million Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre, headquarters for the Atlanta Ballet, opened last August.

Arthur Jacobus, the ballet's executive director, met Mrs. Carlos at its grand opening celebration.

"She was a  gracious, wonderful woman and my wife and I took an instant liking to her," he said. "She and her husband were very philanthropic and, of course, their son Chris and his wife Merry are carrying on the tradition."

When it came to children causes, Mrs. Carlos didn't hesitate.

"She was always in," Mr. Jacobus said. "Anything she could do to help the children, she did."

In 1981, Mr. Carlos led the building campaign to renovate the Old Law School Building on the Emory quad and the museum was completed in 1985. Mr. Carlos, who was chairman and CEO of National Distributing Co., an Atlanta liquor wholesaler, also oversaw the campaign for a 1993 expansion.

In 1999, the couple gave $10 million for the acquisition of Greek and Roman antiquities and, over the years, donated nearly $20 million to the venue. The museum has major collections of objects from ancient Egypt, Nubia, the Near East, Greece, Rome and elsewhere.

"They were involved with the museum on so many levels," said Ms. Speed. "They were the dream team."

Survivors besides her son include a sister, Mary Noras of Atlanta and three grandchildren.