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In memoriam: Robert Shapiro, 81

Published: January 20, 2012
Section: News


Brandeis alumnus Robert Shapiro, a longtime university donor and honored trustee, died earlier this month after having struggled with cancer for more than a year. He was 81.

“To me, Robert was Brandeis,” Senior Vice President of Institutional Advancement Nancy Winship said. “He was dedicated to two families—the Shapiro family and the Brandeis family.” The son of a founding trustee, Robert Shapiro was inextricably part of the university’s history. He was involved with the university for the majority of its existence, as a member of the first graduating class, a president’s councilor and trustee. He built both the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex, in his father’s memory, and the Robert and Valya Shapiro Endowment for Sephardic and East European Jewish Studies.

Shapiro’s counsel was invaluable to Brandeis, university officials said, especially in the recent years of financial hardship. “The next board of trustees meeting in March will be difficult for many of us because Robert will not be there to offer his guidance and wise counsel,” Winship said. In a letter from the president, Frederick Lawrence called Shapiro “a man with a generous spirit who embodied the values of Brandeis in so many ways.”

He was not just an articulate spokesperson or just a talented fundraiser for Brandeis. “His father helped establish the university during the time when the concept of Brandeis University was just a vision and a dream,” Winship explained. “He met his wife … through Brandeis. Three of his nieces [are] Brandeis alumni. Robert was a member of the first graduating class in 1952 and grew up with Brandeis—from student to alumnus to trustee.” His siblings have also served as university benefactors, with his sister as a president’s councilor and two brothers who functioned as a trustee and a Brandeis fellow. His father was a founding trustee and helped to establish the university in 1948.

Shapiro was also a leader of the Boston-area Jewish and philanthropic communities: the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Temple Israel of Boston, the Boston Association for the Blind, and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association.  He and his family funded numerous philanthropic endeavors in the Boston area, but no single institution has been so profoundly affected by Shapiro and his family’s attention as Brandeis.

Even after his passing, Shapiro’s influence will remain strongly felt. “Every time I walk or drive past the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex, which Robert built to honor his father’s legacy, I will think of Robert and smile,” Winship said.

“He was such a vibrant, active member of the Brandeis community for so long,” she continued; Winship was “heartbroken” at the news of Shapiro’s passing, as were many others.

Robert is survived by his wife, Valya (Kazes) Shapiro ’61, his sons Bram and Steven Shapiro, as well as his five grandchildren, Isak, Leyla, Nola, Robert and Sophie.