In my 39 years with the University of Richmond, I've been as nearly a member of the Robins family as one could be without having the DNA to prove the relationship. It's been a privilege and a joy, and because of that I could take the hour, I could create a course, I could write a book — and still could not fully enunciate the great work of Lora Robins.
I remember very well the first time I met her, and it followed my hearing someone say that “Lora Robins doesn't suffer fools gladly.” From the beginning she suffered me gladly, and we both agreed that we would avoid as many fools as we could identify.
When I became president of UR, the tender of the Robins' $50 million gift had been made and its impact and enthusiasm evident. The outcome was yet to be realized. The infrastructure of the university was in distress, the finances were critically inadequate, the faculty and staff were underpaid, some of the buildings were declared unsafe for residency, food services were being monitored by the health department, there was no air conditioning on campus, and the science facilities were less adequate than the high schools from which students were being recruited. There was empty dormitory space.
“Only a miracle would save the university from ceasing to exist,” the former president, George Modlin, said.
Lora and Claiborne Robins were the miracle that was to make the university one of the outstanding universities in the country some 40 years later. This was possible only because of the generosity, deep commitment, foresight, dedication and partnership of those two people. The university's endowment has risen from $8 million when they gave the gift, to more than $1.6 billion.
But the Robinses didn't stop there. The cultural blood that flows through the veins of Richmond and throughout the state has been, over many years, pumped by the heartbeats of Lora Robins and her family. They never gave their money and backed off. They gave and followed through. Their effect has been felt at the Science Museum of Virginia, Maymont Foundation, the Virginia Historical Society, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the American Red Cross. Early in my presidency at the university, Lora Robins took me to Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to see what was then one facility, the big house, and shared her vision. And with long years of effort on her part, working with the executive leadership, board and staff, the result is what you see today.
In the loss of Lora's husband, there was good reason to wonder whether we'd seen the end of the good works of the Robins partnership at UR and elsewhere. We didn't long have to wonder, because she did not fade away. She assumed a greater responsibility personally so as to perpetuate on her own and in her way the good works they together initiated and fostered.
What Lora has done is well-recorded, but who she was is less known. I have fond memories of escorting her to breakfast with some frequency to Aunt Sarah's, or to lunch at the Red Lobster, or on long past occasions, with both Lora and Claiborne at McDonald's or Denny's. Yet I have dined with them at Maxim's in Paris, as well. She didn't lack for much that money could buy, but she beamed with appreciation for what others did for her.
Lora was gracious, generous, thankful, responsive, concerned, involved, inclusive, friendly, articulate, loving of family and friends, concerned about others, hospitable, thoughtful and enduring. Her creed is well represented by words from Edwin Markham,
“There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone.
All that we send into the lives of others,
Comes back into our own.”