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Philanthropy champion

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Charlotte lawyer lauded for support of higher education.

By Ret Boney

CHARLOTTE, N.C. [06.04.04] — Russell M. Robinson II did not attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, but that has not stopped him from being one of its most passionate supporters.

Now, his work for the school, including leadership in its $100 million fundraising campaign, has landed him a national service award.

Robinson was recognized in March when the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, or CASE, presented him with its Commonfund national service award.

CASE recognized Robinson for his efforts on behalf of the UNC Charlotte Foundation, a nonprofit that raises private money to support the school.

“Russell Robinson represents an excellent example of ways in which public colleges and universities can engage private resources in higher education, not just financially, but with guidance and leadership,” says David Bass, director of CASE’s National Center for Institutionally Related Foundations, which supports foundations that raise money for public colleges and universities.

Robinson’s official partnership with the university began in 1987 when he was tapped to serve the remaining two years of a vacant seat on the school’s board of trustees.

He served out that term, then continued for two more four-year terms, serving as board chair as well.

He joined the board of the UNC Charlotte Foundation in the late 1980s and has served as chair since 2001, providing leadership to the “It Takes a Gift” fundraising campaign launched in 2002 with a goal of $100 million.

Russell M. Robinson II

Job: Attorney, founding partner, Robinson, Bradshaw and HinsonBorn: 1932, Charlotte, N.C.

Education: Undergraduate, Princeton University and Duke University; Duke University Law School

Family: Wife, Sally; three children; four grandchildren

Hobbies: Running, tennis, golf, reading

Currently reading: “Franklin and Winston: An intimate portrait of an epic friendship”, by Jon Meacham

Inspiration: “My wife, Sally, above all”

Of the total, $95 million has been raised.

“It’s important,” says Robinson, “because state support and tuition funds alone can’t support the school,” while keeping tuition reasonably priced.

Robinson believes philanthropy is critical to ensuring that public colleges and universities are affordable to all qualified applicants, regardless of their families’ financial resources.

“Academic inflation has outpaced general inflation in recent years,” he says, “and it will require a great deal of private funds to meet that challenge.”

In particular, he points to elite universities with high tuition that leave middle-class students in a gap between wealthy students, who can afford college expenses, and poor ones, who qualify for need-based scholarships.

“That leaves the middle class of average people very pressed to pay for college,” says Robinson.

Robinson is a Charlotte native who left the area to attend high school at Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, and undergraduate and law school at Princeton and Duke, respectively.

He returned in 1956 to join a law firm, leaving in 1960 to start his own practice, Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, and in 2003 was named the state’s top business lawyer by Business North Carolina magazine.

His interest in philanthropy began with his involvement with Charlotte-based United Way of Central Carolinas.

Over time, Robinson has become more involved with nonprofits, and in 2001 became chairman of the board of The Duke Endowment, North Carolina’s largest foundation and one of the largest in the U.S.

He now spends more than half his time on philanthropic activities.

Robinson is a founding board member of the Charlotte Research Institute, a new research campus designed to build on several of the university’s strengths, including optoelectronics, information technology and precision metrology.

One of his most recent projects is the creation and leadership of the UNC Charlotte Investment Fund, an entity responsible for managing all the investable assets of the university’s three endowment funds.

“If you can do just a little bit of good,” he says, “it can do a whole lot for those students,” he says.

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