For years, a Cambridge man quietly sat in the recital halls at the Berklee College of Music, where he immersed himself in the sounds of student jazz performances. He made no fuss. No one at the college even knew his name.
But Oliver Dyer Colvin Jr. held on to a secret that Berklee learned only after his death: In his will, he left the school the largest financial gift it has ever received.
“It was really altruistic that he did this on his own, without a lot of fanfare,” Mac Hisey, a Berklee senior vice president and chief financial officer, said Thursday in a phone interview.
Colvin, who died in summer 2011, donated an estimated $8.1 million, college officials said. The money will be used for campus renovations and student scholarships.
Hisey said that the college first learned of the donation in fall 2011, when the executor of Colvin’s estate contacted the school. Hisey said that Berklee wanted to wait until the gift cleared before making a public announcement. The college has received about half of the estimated $8.1 million.
“It really tells you, first, how Berklee connects with the people around us and how our students who throw these open performances end up connecting with people that we don’t even know are there,” Hisey said.
Little is known about the man who left millions of dollars to a college he did not attend.
According to a statement released by Berklee, Colvin died at age 84. He graduated from the US Naval Academy and served with distinction as an officer during the Korean War.
After leaving the Navy, Colvin worked at Sylvania Electric Products Inc., and later at International Telephone and Telegraph Corp.
He went on to serve as chairman of the Cargocaire Engineering Corp., a business based in Amesbury that designs and builds dehumidification units to protect ships and cargo from moisture damage.
The college said in a statement that in honor of the bequest, a 100-seat recital hall will be named the “Oliver Colvin Room.”
“His name will appear on the exterior wall of the space that is host to vibrant student performances, clinics from renowned visiting artists, and classes taught by Berklee’s world-class faculty,” the statement said.
Berklee’s president, Roger Brown, said in the statement that “Mr. Colvin loved to come hear Berklee students perform and, with this gift, he has helped us guarantee that the next generation of talented musicians will continue to advance the jazz tradition he enjoyed so much.
“We are deeply grateful for his generosity,” Brown said.