JMU RECEIVES $1 MILLION GIFT FOR PLANNED CONCERT HALL
HARRISONBURG — Richard "Dick" D. Roberts will have to come up with something really big, really special, to give his wife for their 50th wedding anniversary next year because it may be hard to top his gift to his wife, Shirley, for their 49th year of marriage.
Roberts, a retired cable-television executive, has donated $1 million to James Madison University, with a portion of the gift earmarked for the university's planned Performing Arts Complex and its main concert hall — to be named the Shirley Hanson Roberts Concert Hall.
It was another golden anniversary — Shirley Roberts' 50th year reunion of the Class of 1956 at Madison College (now JMU) held in early April — that put the idea into Dick Roberts' head, so impressed was the Virginia Beach resident with his wife's alma mater in Harrisonburg.
Roberts, a U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard Business School graduate, reported that he asked every student he met that April weekend what he or she thought of JMU and heard only enthusiasm and positive responses. He also had high praise for JMU's president, Dr. Linwood H. Rose, and was impressed with a performance by the Madison Singers, JMU's highly select choir ensemble that will be performing one day in the concert hall that will bear his wife's name.
The Performing Arts Complex, construction on which is to begin in 2007, will provide much-needed performance, rehearsal and production facilities for students and faculty of JMU's School of Music and School of Theatre and Dance. With the Roberts' gift, JMU has received gifts totaling more than $5,530,000 toward construction and naming of the center.
"The Roberts are a delightful couple whose love and affection for one another is the envy of anyone who knows them," said President Rose. "JMU, and specifically the Center for the Performing Arts, is the beneficiary of Dick's commitment to Shirley and her interests.
"I think the Roberts' philanthropy was inspired by Shirley's recent class reunion where they had an opportunity to witness firsthand the quality and talent of our students and faculty. We are thankful for their interest in the university and support of our goals."
Roberts, who was president and chief executive officer of TeleCable Corp. in Norfolk before it was sold in 1995, had already credited Madison with bringing him together with his future wife in the summer of 1954 — they might never have met, he contends, if Shirley had followed her freshman-year roommate in transferring to an Ohio college. She preferred to stay at Madison.
From there, it was your classic, love-at-first-sight and lasts-forever love story that proves it doesn't just happen in the movies.
He, a midshipman from Quincy, Mass., getting in some summer training with Marines in Virginia's Tidewater, won a trophy at a shooting gallery while on a beach boardwalk with a buddy. She, a college coed, strolled on the boardwalk in a pink bathing suit with her Madison sorority sister, Fern. The middie saw Shirley and handed her his trophy, saying, "Congratulations, you have been voted the most beautiful woman on the boardwalk." The girls accepted a double date to dinner, and, eventually, Dick would propose to Shirley after both graduated: he from Annapolis and she from Madison College with a bachelor's degree in secondary education.
The Roberts have made a comfortable life together, with three daughters and five grandchildren, and have shared such passions as antiques, travel and active community service in the Tidewater area. Last year, the couple jointly donated to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation endowing the directorship of architectural history.
The concert hall at James Madison won't be the first hall named for Mrs. Roberts, however. When the couple needed a place for their antiques collection, they bought a 1940s Georgian revival house in the Bay Colony section of Virginia, and, were so meticulous in restoring the property, that it is now on the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register. Its name: Shirley Hall.
Tough act to follow, but Dick Roberts has until Aug. 3, 2007, to come up with something really special for his one true love on their 50th anniversary.