Exhibiting Empathy

The Winstons’ latest gift to Boston College fuels the momentum of a museum whose exhibitions do more than excite the eye.

University benefactors Judith and Robert Winston visit the McMullen Museum of Art, which Provost and Dean of Faculties David Quigley calls “a true jewel of Boston College.”

Robert “Bob” Winston ’60 lights up when he catches sight of two students working at the information desk of the McMullen Museum of Art. “Are you seniors?” he asks. “Do you have jobs?” It’s a month before graduation, and they’re finishing term papers and studying for finals—and yes, they tell him with mingled pride and relief, they’ve both accepted job offers. Winston congratulates and encourages them for a few more minutes before moving on.

Bob and his wife, Judy, are here to celebrate the newly established Robert L. and Judith T. Winston Directorship of the McMullen Museum of Art, the most recent in a long history of transformative gifts the couple have made to Boston College.

The Winstons’ philanthropy at BC is united by a single goal: to develop young men and women who will, as Bob Winston puts it, “make the right decision when no one’s looking.” Winston was a BC undergraduate when, inspired by both his ROTC experience and BC’s Jesuit ethos, he first embraced the code of ethics that has been his lifelong polestar. As he likes to say, “Bob Winston’s my name, ethical leadership is my aim.”

If you want to know about other people, learn what’s important to them—and that’s usually art.” 



The Winstons are acutely concerned by what they see as a dangerously angry culture that has, according to Winston, “lost its moral compass.” They want to help the next generation reclaim public civility and personal integrity: to become the leaders the world needs. To this end, the couple believe that art has a distinctive power to bridge societal differences, developing empathetic men and women who value other people and perspectives—a philosophy articulated by Leo Tolstoy in his famous essay “What Is Art?,” in which he argued that art is “a means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” The Winstons share Tolstoy’s vision, and that belief inspired them to support the McMullen Museum long before it was a museum.

Students enjoy events beyond the scheduled museum programming, such as Art After Dark, which occurs several times during the academic year and allows students to take in the exhibitions on display, socialize, and even perform.

Under the leadership of Winston Director and Professor of Art History Nancy Netzer, the McMullen has pursued a singular vision: encouraging interdisciplinary research and collaboration with scholars across the University and around the world. Critic Stephen Kinzer, writing in the New York Times, has called the McMullen a new kind of university museum mounting “innovative, multidisciplinary shows” that “reach far beyond traditional art history” to create political, historical, and cultural context.

Today, the McMullen Museum has grown from one small gallery to a three-story center of research, curation, and collaboration in a renovated Renaissance Revival palazzo on BC’s Brighton campus, and close to a million visitors have enjoyed its remarkable offerings.

Paying tribute to the Winstons’ role in the museum’s growth, Netzer says, “Bob and Judy Winston have done so much to harness our University’s unique potential to be a leader in museum pedagogy, investigative practice, and presentation.” The Winstons, in turn, cite Netzer herself as their inspiration in endowing her position. “I admire her,” Bob Winston says, “because she demands excellence and achieves it. She’s a visionary leader.”

Bob and Judy Winston have done so much to harness our University’s unique potential to be a leader in museum pedagogy, investigative practice, and presentation.



The couple’s support of the museum has included helping to establish the McMullen Ambassadors program, which hires students—including the two Bob Winston spoke with in the lobby—to serve as museum greeters, researchers, and collaborators on projects and initiatives that give them curatorial experience, which is rare at the undergraduate level. Netzer agrees with Winston that the museum can play an important role in developing future leaders. “We share in the Winstons’ hope that if we present future generations of students with the best ideas and tools, those students will go on to put them in the service of a better future for all of us,” she says.

And as Bob Winston chats with a pair of students in the McMullen lobby, that is indeed his hope—that, like him, they have found their own personal lodestar in the ethos of the Heights. He imagines a future where young men and women like these do, in his words, “bring a little humanity to the world.” They are the next generation of leaders, and they give him hope.


Windows of Change

See which of the past McMullen exhibitions led Bob Winston to rethink what he knew about the world.


Read more

Beacon Staff

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