Their steadfast commitment to Boston College spanned decades; their final act broke records. Here’s the story of the local couple behind the largest estate gift to Boston College.
Parents, philanthropists, and patrons of the arts, Paul and Joyce Robsham have been long associated with Boston College’s theater program. But that was just the beginning of a generosity that spans decades and departments. During their lifetimes, the Robshams’ numerous contributions over the years touched countless BC students—and with an unprecedented $75 million realized bequest to Boston College, their legacy at the Heights will endure for generations to come.
The couple that studies together stays together.
In 1928, Mickey Mouse made his debut in Steamboat Willie, the United States took home gold in both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, and Norwegian immigrant-turned-Boston resident William Robsham and his wife welcomed a baby boy into their growing family. They named him Einer Paul Robsham.
The following year in Brighton, Arthur and Muriel Loring were blessed with a daughter, Joyce.
As students at Brighton High School, Joyce and Paul (as he was known) began a relationship neither could have imagined would last more than 50 years. She helped him pass Latin, working with him on grammar and syntax. Outside of academics, they shared an interest in the stage. “They were both very involved in theater throughout high school, running clubs, building sets, everything,” says Patricia Davis, Robsham estate trustee and family friend.
A high school education wasn’t the end of the line for either young graduate—or their relationship. Paul graduated from Calvin Coolidge College in 1949, intending to pursue a career in teaching. Joyce graduated from Simmons College.
In 1950, they married.
TO BUILD, TO CREATE
Newlyweds Paul and Joyce Robsham began building their life together in Wayland, a town west of Brighton.
On the path to becoming a teacher, Paul enrolled at Boston College’s School of Education. But his studies were interrupted by the Korean War. Paul was called to serve his country in the U.S. Army.
When Paul returned to civilian life a few years later, their life as a couple resumed. Paul founded Robsham Industries, a prominent real estate development firm based in Framingham. As president and chairman of the board, he led the team building custom residential communities and commercial properties throughout eastern Massachusetts.
In their free time, Paul and Joyce still shared an interest in the stage. “Paul loved the theater,” says Davis. “Near their Wayland home was a dinner theater they’d go to often and he would invite the actors back to their house. There were always parties and celebrations!”
They were soon blessed with a daughter who died in infancy. Then, in 1963, they welcomed a son, naming him after his father. Baby Paul filled their lives with activity. Growing up, he played hockey and had his sights set on attending Boston College.
In the early 1980s, both E. Paul Robshams were Eagles. After years out of the classroom, Paul Sr. had returned to Boston College to complete his graduate work; his son began studying at the Heights as part of the Class of 1986. In May 1983, mother and son applauded as Paul Sr. was awarded a Master of Education degree at BC’s 108th Commencement.
After graduation, Joyce smiled beside her two Eagles as all three Robshams posed for photos on that joyous day of celebration.
It was an automobile accident.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, just days after completing his freshman year at the Heights, Paul Jr. was killed in a car accident. Waves of grief reverberated across campus and throughout the BC community.
BC’s then University President J. Donald Monan, S.J., immediately reached out to Joyce and Paul Sr. providing kindness, compassion, and spiritual and emotional support. “They became very good friends,” Davis notes.
Consumed with grief for her son, Joyce retreated.
It wasn’t until a trip to the horse racing track with a friend, Davis remembers, that Joyce began to reemerge. “She came back so excited,” says Davis. “It was the first time she had smiled since her son died.” Joyce found joy and calling in Thoroughbred racing, eventually becoming a well-known and respected horse breeder. She and Paul Sr. even dressed their jockeys in BC maroon and gold.
TO CHANGE IN SHAPE, METAMORPHOSE
The Robshams began their transformational support of Boston College.
The friendship the Robshams built with Fr. Monan formed an inseparable bond between them and the University. Over the next several years, the Robshams devoted time, energy, and funds to BC.
“They wanted to provide in whatever way they could,” remembers Robsham estate trustee Jack Downs. “Paul valued education; he always felt it was important to keep learning. Together they focused on scholarships and tuition assistance and creating buildings that would be for the use of the students.”
Paul valued education; he always felt it was important to keep learning. Together they focused on scholarships and tuition assistance and creating buildings that would be for the use of the students.
John and Linda Powers family Dean Andy Boynton ’78, P’13, of the Carroll School of Management
As a couple, they invested in the Heights for decades, beginning with a gift of nearly $1 million, after which the University named its new theater in memory of Paul Jr. “We measure the worth of people not by what they have done, but by who they are,” said Fr. Monan at the ceremony in 1985. “And it is love that opens eyes to see who each individual is. We name the Theater Arts Center in honor of E. Paul Robsham, Jr. because of who he was—a valued student of Boston College and a beloved son to his mother and father.”
Paul Sr. was impressed with Fr. Monan’s leadership of Boston College and felt that helping to grow the school was a cause he and Joyce could support.
Through philanthropy, hosting events, serving as a University trustee and trustee associate, and volunteering whenever time allowed, Paul always had an eye toward improving the student experience, particularly in the fields he and his son had found most meaningful. In the decades that followed, the Robshams invested in several University priorities under President William P. Leahy, S.J., and established funds supporting students, faculty, and facilities. (See “Florere”.)
The Robshams’ estate plan was originally developed by Paul and amended periodically over time with input and consultation from Joyce and Fr. Monan. And now their realized bequest of $75 million—one for the record books—will impact generations of Eagles for years to come.
“Paul’s extraordinary accomplishments in business made him a valuable policy advisor and board member at Boston College,” said Fr. Monan after Paul’s death in 2004. And Joyce, who died in 2018, was a “highly talented, gentle woman who found her deepest satisfaction, as well as her most painful losses, in the circle of her own family.”
Paul and Joyce Robsham have left a lasting legacy at Boston College. I am grateful for their generosity over the years and its impact on generations of BC students.
University President William P. Leahy, S.J.
TO BLOOM, TO FLOURISH
The Robshams’ $75 million record-setting gift leaves an everlasting legacy at the Heights, building upon their many years of philanthropy to all corners of the University. Their generosity will impact students’ academic, artistic, and social experience for generations of Eagles.
The Robsham Effect
How E. Paul and Joyce Robsham transformed Boston College through their philanthropy and service:
- Board of Trustees
- Trustee Associate
- The E. Paul Robsham Theater Scholarship
- Robsham Scholarship in Theater Arts
- The E. Paul Robsham Theater Program Fund
- The Father J. Donald Monan Professorial Chair in Theater Arts
- E. Paul Robsham Jr. Goalie Scholarship Fund in Men’s Hockey
- The E. Paul and Joyce L. Robsham Psychology Fellowship
- The E. Paul and Joyce L. Robsham Fund for Psychology
- The E. Paul Robsham Fund for Capital Projects
- Pops on the Heights
- BC Fund