Joseph E. Robert, Jr.
By Mark Lerner
A few months ago, the Washington, DC
area lost one of its most prominent individuals. Mr. Joseph E. Robert, Jr. was
an extremely wealthy philanthropist who
contributed millions to causes that supported children. Besides the considerable
sums he contributed to the Children’s
National Medical Center, he arranged for
the facility to receive a $150 million grant
from the United Arab Emirates. The money
is being utilized to completely re-engineer
the way pediatric surgery is performed.
He is also well-known for his work
in the field of education. Years ago,
Mr. Robert founded the Washington
Scholarship Fund that provided private
school scholarships to disadvantaged
youth. When the Federal government
created its own private school voucher
program, Mr. Robert threw all of his
efforts into having the plan approved by
Congress and he successfully fought multiple attempts to shut it down. He also
created Fight for Children, a non-profit
organization that supports efforts by DC
public schools to improve academic performance. Together with Fight for Children, Mr. Robert raised over $450 million
for educational initiatives in the nation’s
Mr. Robert grew up poor in an abusive
household and never completed college.
Yet, he developed a thriving real estate
company that resulted in him becoming
a billionaire. I became involved with
Mr. Robert because we both supported
private school vouchers. I had worked at
With his passing I and others began to contemplate
what is important in life. Specifically, it made me reflect
on whether I was treating my staff and patients with
as much care as I could be.
Children’s Hospital and therefore was
well aware of his contributions.
Mr. Robert knew how to have a good
time. His signature fundraising event was
called Fight Night. It involved men in tux-
edos getting together over steak and pota-
toes to watch boxing matches while
enjoying cigars. The evening proved so
popular, and raised so much money, that
the DC Council passed a special law
allowing indoor smoking for this one
occasion. What I didn’t know until he
passed away at age 59 from a brain tumor
was what an outstanding role model he
was in his personal life. He had two sons
and, with one being quite young, he wrote
the older one letters about what he
thought he should become as a man.
During Mr. Robert’s funeral his son read
one of the notes. Here is a summary of
the ideas Mr. Robert expressed:
• Don’t procrastinate, but also don’t rush.
• Fight hard for what you believe in.
• Never give up.
• Treat individuals the way you would
want to be treated.
• Care for other people no matter what
Of course, many were touched by the
generosity of this individual, but with his
passing I and others began to contemplate what is important in life. Specifically, it made me reflect on whether I was
treating my staff and patients with as
much care as I could be. Mr. Robert’s
birthday was February 23. On this day, I
went to work thinking that I should try
and do something special for someone in
honor of his memory. So there I was sitting in my mammography manager’s
office and I noticed a woman standing
next to our reception desk who was visibly upset. I immediately went up to her
and asked her if she was alright. She said
that she was and then I asked her if she
was being helped. She assured me that
she was being taken care of and I stayed
with her until one of my employees
addressed her needs.
Well, what I didn’t know at the time
was that this patient was the wife of