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Honorary Degrees Being Given to Robert A. and Jeanne Knox

More than three decades of collective service to BU

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When their son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age six, Robert and Jeanne Knox tag-teamed to outfight the illness. Diabetes is a family scourge on Robert’s side, and he patiently taught Bob, Jr., to inject insulin by practicing with cranberry juice and a lemon “hundreds of times,” says Knox (CAS’74, Questrom’75), an investor in health care companies. Jeanne, a nurse with a master’s degree from Boston College, managed the care for their son, who knew how to regulate his blood sugar by age seven.

Bob Knox, Jr. (SAR’10, SPH’12) “has never spent a night in the hospital because of his diabetes,” his father says. “That’s unheard of.” When word got out at their son’s Greenwich, Conn., school that the Knoxes were willing to help families with diabetic children, “all of a sudden, we were like magnets,” Robert says, and he and Jeanne began meeting with other couples to share experiences. Jeanne became director of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation of Fairfield County.

BU—which, as it happens, has developed cutting-edge diabetes treatments from a bionic pancreas to preventive drugs—has been a similarly shared experience for the Knoxes, who have donated time, money, and kin. (Besides their son, their daughter, Merrill Knox Grant (COM’06), is a BU alum.) At Commencement, the couple will each be given one of the University’s highest accolades—a Doctor of Humane letters for Jeanne Knox, a Doctor of Laws for Robert Knox.

Robert Knox, who will deliver the Questrom School of Business convocation address May 19 at Agganis Arena, was a BU trustee for 20 years and chaired the Board of Trustees for 8 years, before stepping down last year. He now serves on the University’s Board of Overseers. As cofounder and senior managing director of Cornerstone Equity Investors, he directs one quarter of that private equity firm’s investments into health care businesses—a passion for a man whose mother, like his wife, was a nurse.

“She hoped I’d be a doctor. I disappointed her,” he joked when his and his wife’s eponymous foundation gave BU $2.5 million five years ago to endow the Robert A. Knox Professorship, currently held by School of Public Health Dean Sandro Galea. The professorship goes to a faculty member whose high-caliber scholarship and teaching benefit society.

Knox also has served on the dean’s advisory councils of both the College of Arts & Sciences, where he earned an economics degree, and the Questrom School of Business, where he earned an MBA, and on several BU committees, in addition to the boards of 30-plus companies. His greatest legacy to the University, he says, was helping to devise new BU governance policies that promoted greater transparency, consolidated committees, and imposed term limits that brought new blood to the board.

Jeanne Knox has led BU’s Parents Leadership Council, an advisory body to the Dean of Students office on issues concerning parents of undergraduates, since the council’s 2003 launch. She is also the “public face,” as she puts it, of the Parents Program, which offers resources and local receptions to help parents connect with BU.

Knox represents the Parents Program each year at the summer Orientation events for parents of incoming first-year students, and she tries to attend the various reception afterwards, where she has met parents “who are as nervous as they could possibly be because their son or daughter is going to an urban university that is very large,” she says. She empathizes with them because she felt that same fear on delivering her own son for freshman year, “dropping him off and thinking, “I’m going to die.”

As he prospered at college, “I watched the University take my fears away, and I talk about those things incessantly” at the receptions.

Hand-holding fellow parents in her son’s schools “became the foundation,” of her work at BU,” she says. “It is very hard to raise a diabetic child who isn’t damaged by the dependency that is almost inherent in the caretaker-child relationship. A lot of what I do at BU comes very naturally to me,” as she helps mothers and fathers with “issues around parenting an independent-thinking kid.”

Those efforts also played to her career as a nurse working with newborns needing high-tech care. “I was always more interested in the parents’ stories,” she recalls. “I worked in a way broader capacity than just checking the vital signs on a newborn.”

According to one colleague quoted in her honorary degree citation: “Any parent who spends five minutes talking with her ends up feeling really good about their child coming to BU.”

Jeanne Knox also has volunteered with BU’s International Advisory Board, the Trustee Spouse Outreach advisory committee, and the Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences dean’s advisory board. Because of her work to improve student life, BU has awarded her an Honorary Scarlet Key Award.

Robert Knox says their nonstop BU business lands them in Room 330, “the Terrier Suite,” at the Hotel Commonwealth an average of 30 days a year. “Almost every employee at that hotel knows Jeanne and me by name,” he says.

This year’s other BU honorary degree recipients are Commencement speaker Bonnie Hammer (CGS’69, COM’71, SED’75), NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group chair, Doctor of Humane Letters; former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz, Doctor of Humane Letters; and Nobel Prize winner and climate change champion Mario J. Molina, who will be the Baccalaureate speaker, Doctor of Laws.

More information about Commencement can be found here.

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Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

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