Record-setting alumnus hasn’t missed a gift to BU in 50 years| From Giving | By Caitlin Cushman
Since the 1950s, Robert Slocum has given to Boston University every year, making him the donor with the longest record of consecutive yearly gifts in BU’s documented history.
Robert Slocum (CAS’44,’46) is nothing if not thorough.
As a librarian, he has helped catalog the collections of Harvard’s Lamont Library, the University of Illinois Library, the Simmons College Library, the Cornell University Library, and the Library of Congress. The six books he has written and edited include Biographical Dictionaries and Related Works, volumes on fiction about New York State, New York City, and other mid-Atlantic states, and an annotated bibliography of fictional accounts of New England.
As a philanthropist, Slocum has been equally dedicated and diligent. He and his late wife, Christine, gave up to a quarter of their combined librarians’ salaries to nonprofit organizations every year—38 groups in the past decade alone—while raising two children and putting them through college. And since the 1950s, not a year has gone by that Slocum hasn’t given to Boston University, making him the donor with the longest record of consecutive yearly gifts in BU’s documented history.
Slocum knows firsthand the good that philanthropy can do. After the Depression shut down his father’s business, he moved with his parents and five siblings to Brockton, Mass., where his father found factory work. By 1940, his senior year at Brockton High School, he had proven himself an excellent student, but college did not seem to be in the cards—until Boston University offered him an Augustus Howe Buck Scholarship, covering full tuition and providing a stipend for living expenses.
The first in his family to attend college, Slocum enrolled in the College of Liberal Arts (now the College of Arts & Sciences). Today, he fondly recalls “long bull sessions with friends,” the “small, comfortable size of the classes at CLA,” and “an excellent, caring education, with teachers who really took an interest in their students.” His favorite class, History of the English Novel, was taught by Professor Gerald Warner Brace, whose works Slocum would collect over the years. He would later dedicate New England in Fiction 1787–1990: An Annotated Bibliography to Brace.
Slocum’s BU experience wasn’t all about books. Spotted shooting hoops at the gym, he was approached by the BU men’s basketball coach and offered a spot on the varsity team. He played for only a year before leaving to concentrate on his studies, but he continued to play basketball at the intramural level, and to this day directs his financial support to both CAS and to BU basketball.
After BU, Slocum earned an M.A. in European history from Columbia University. He returned to Boston for a job at the newly opened Lamont Library at Harvard University. He also took courses in education at BU and acquired a library science degree at Simmons College. The marriage of professional work and intellectual inquiry led him to further library work around the country, and to another kind of marriage—to University of Illinois librarian Christine Stanfield.
The newlyweds developed a shared life that revolved around family, community, volunteerism, and philanthropy. After paying the bills, the Slocums would decide how much to send to which organizations—educational, religious, community-oriented, humanitarian—but their alma maters were always on the short list.
The first time Robert Slocum mailed a check to BU, he recalls, “I very much wanted to repay the Buck Scholarship Fund, so that future scholars could benefit, too.” In an alumni survey for 50th reunioners in 1996, he urged his classmates to give back as well. “Every graduate has an obligation to support the education efforts of their alma mater and its students,” he says. “They owe the University for providing some of the tools they needed to succeed in life.”
For Slocum, the act of giving is more important than the amount. Nonetheless, his accumulated generosity to BU recently reached a five-figure total. When informed of this milestone, Slocum said he would gladly do it all over again—even his Lambda fraternity initiation, which he recalls with a wry grin. Left somewhere outside of Boston, wearing only a sheet, he had to find his way home to his dorm, unassisted.
He made it back to Boston University—and continues to do so, year after year.