A lifelong Brandeisian, Robert Shapiro dies at 81

He was a member of the first graduating class, and a longtime trustee

Photos/Mike Lovett

Robert Shapiro '52 and his wife, Valya '61, met at Brandeis and served the university on many levels.

Robert Shapiro ’52, who was a member of Brandeis’ first graduating class and served as a longtime trustee at this university his father helped establish, died on Friday, Jan. 6, in Chestnut Hill, Mass. He was 81 and had been battling cancer.

The son of founding Trustee Abraham Shapiro, the younger Shapiro grew up with Brandeis – from student to alumnus to reunion organizer to donor to fundraiser to president’s councilor to fellow and, finally, to trustee in 1979.

Mr. Shapiro stayed close to the university through the years – both literally and figuratively. He lived just a few miles from Brandeis and, along with his wife, Valya (Kazes) Shapiro ’61, frequently visited campus for celebrations, get-togethers with students and faculty, meetings, events, openings, commencements and reunions.

"Bob was a man of unusually generous spirit,” Brandeis President Fred Lawrence said. “He and Valya have been great friends to Brandeis for so many years in so many ways.  He will be dearly missed."

Mr. Shapiro received an honorary degree from Brandeis in 1992 and was presented the Alumni Association’s Service to Association Award in 1984 for his work as chair of the Alumni Annual Fund from 1979-82. He and his wife generously supported a number of initiatives, including construction of the Abraham Shapiro Academic Complex and the Robert and Valya Shapiro Endowment for Sephardic and East European Jewish Studies.

Fittingly, Mr. Shapiro also met his future wife through Brandeis. In 1961, his niece, Bettina Dorn ’61, introduced him to Ms. Kazes, a Wien International Scholarship Program student from Turkey. They met on a snowy January night, had their first date in February, and were married in June, six days after her graduation. Brandeis founding President Abram Sachar, a close friend of the Shapiro family, gave away the bride since her parents were unable to attend the wedding.

"Bob understood and was an articulate spokesperson concerning the values for which Brandeis stands,” said Malcolm Sherman, P ’83, chair of the Brandeis Board of Trustees. “He was a significant contributor to the emotional and intellectual life of the university."

Mr. Shapiro first joined the Board of Trustees in 1979 and was a member of the university’s governing board until his death. He served on a number of trustee committees, including academic affairs, development, nominating and governance, students and enrollment, honorary degrees and audit.

Involvement with Brandeis was a family affair for the Shapiros. Mr. Shapiro’s seven siblings, all of whom preceded him in death, were connected with the university. His brother Jacob was a trustee, brother George served as a Brandeis fellow and sister Alice was a president’s councilor. Mr. Shapiro’s wife is a fellow of the university and serves on the board of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.

“I am deeply saddened by Bob’s death,” said Nancy Winship, P’ ’10, P ’12, senior vice president of institutional advancement. “We worked closely together for 18 years, and I was always struck by Bob’s personal warmth and his deep dedication to his two families – the Shapiros and Brandeis. We will all miss him very much.”

Mr. Shapiro was president of Turn Key Living, an interior design firm that he founded with his wife. He was also a licensed marriage and family therapist, and served as a chaplain at Hebrew Senior Life. He was a principal with the family real estate business that his father started.

In addition to his support of Brandeis, Mr. Shapiro was a leader in the Boston Jewish and philanthropic communities. He served on the boards of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, Temple Israel of Boston, the Boston Association for the Blind, and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Association.

Along with his wife of 50 years, Mr. Shapiro leaves two sons, Bram, and his wife, Jennifer, of Brookline, and Steven and his wife, Kimberly, of Atlanta; and five grandchildren, Isak, Leyla, Sophie, Nola and Robert.

Funeral services will be held at Temple Israel of Boston, 477 Longwood Ave., Boston, on Monday, Jan. 9 at 2 p.m. Burial will follow at Baker Street Cemetery, West Roxbury. Shiva will be at his home on Monday from 5-9 p.m. and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m.

Categories: Alumni, General

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