Boston College has received a $75 million donation, the largest in school history, from the estate of Joyce and Paul Robsham, whose son attended Boston College before dying in a car accident.
The gift, which was to be announced on Thursday, will provide funding for a number of projects, including financial aid and the maintenance of the Robsham Theater Arts Center, said Jim Husson, BC’s vice president for university advancement.
The theater is named for the couple’s son, Paul Jr., who died in 1983, the summer after his freshman year.
“One of the reasons we’re so excited about this gift is that it tells a story about a couple that wanted their legacy to be one of improving the student experience at Boston College through these very specific areas that they know are central to what students do each and every day,” Husson said. “I walk by the Robsham Theater every single day and think of their son who died so tragically while he was still an undergraduate, and the long, long legacy that these two wonderful people have left.”
Paul Robsham earned his master’s degree from Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development before serving on the university’s board of trustees. He and his wife had “a great affinity for the school,” said Robsham Estate Trustee Jack Downs.
“They didn’t have any children of their own after their son passed away, so being able to leave a legacy for the students of BC was really important,” he said.
Before Paul Robsham died in 2004, he stated his wish that BC be “the major beneficiary” of the couple’s estate, college officials said. For the next 14 years, his wife worked with administrators to determine how to allocate the estate funds. When Joyce died in 2018, friends and employees of the Robshams were named co-trustees to complete the work the couple had started.
A significant portion of the $75 million donation will fund new undergraduate scholarships for performing arts students and graduate fellowships for those pursuing counseling or school psychology. Combined with previous scholarship donations, the family now provides financial aid for nearly 25 students each year.
The couple also set aside money for psychology training at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, as well as a new graduate program in urban mental health counseling.
By supporting a variety of programs, the donation will have a wide-ranging impact on student life, said BC’s student government president Jack Bracher.
“Traditionally when schools receive donations, they’re aimed towards one specific thing. I think the broadness of the donation is really going to make an impact on the student experience at Boston College,” he said. “We’ve heard from students that they wanted to see improvements in those areas, and we’re incredibly excited that the university is going to be able to do so.”
Husson said the money will be allocated “in a thoughtful way” over the next few years.
“Parts of the gifts that support scholarships go into effect pretty much right away,” he said. But for “other components that might be looking at something more complex, like the theater program, we won’t do anything really quickly because we want to make sure that we’re both honoring the intent of the gift and maximizing its effect.”
BC president William P. Leahy said he’s optimistic that the donation will prompt students to “pause and ask, how are they using their gifts for the good of others?”
“What you received as a gift, you should give as a gift,” he said. “When we think about performing arts and gathering spaces for students, or scholarship aid, all those have impacts that ripple out long after the initial gift is made.”