Ronny Zinner, trustee, vice-chair of Heller overseers

Ronny Zinner

Longtime Brandeis University Trustee Rhonda (Shapiro) Zinner, whose family’s generosity helped transform Brandeis and who enhanced her own individual impact with a type of personal philanthropy that brought her close to many students, died on March 18 in Boston.

The eldest daughter of Carl and the late Ruth Shapiro, “Ronny” first joined the Brandeis Board of Trustees in 1992 and later served as secretary (1998-99) and treasurer (2008-11). She was vice chair of the Board of Overseers at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, where she focused much of her attention.

“The Shapiro family collectively and Ronny Zinner individually have had an immeasurable impact on this University,” Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence said. “Ronny’s involvement with Heller reflected her values and goal of improving people’s lives through positive social change. She was a remarkable woman – kind, wise and generous in every way. She will be greatly missed.”

At Heller, she and her husband, Michael, established the Rhonda S. and Michael J. Zinner Forum, a commanding public space in the Heller School’s Schneider Building. As Heller School Dean Lisa Lynch, the Maurice B. Hexter Professor of Social and Economic Policy, shared in her eulogy, “Ronny’s hope was that the Zinner Forum would be a gathering place where scholarship, controversy and community would come together.” Ronny also supported the Shapiro Family Fellowship, which provided financial aid to Heller graduate students pursuing careers in service to children and families. 

Ronny’s support of the Shapiro Fellows extended well beyond a financial commitment. She helped them find employment and offered career guidance, but most of all imbued the students with the confidence to pursue their goals.

“Ronny was a warm, caring person who had the innate ability to connect with students and make them believe in themselves,” said Nancy Winship, P’10, P’13, Brandeis’ senior vice president of institutional advancement, who has worked closely with the Shapiro family for decades. “She was committed to empowering these students to help improve the world around us.


For many years, she served as president of the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, helping organizations both large and small in support of arts and culture, education, health, Jewish causes and social-welfare programs in Greater Boston.

Ronny earned a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a master’s from Boston University’s School of Social Work. She was a magna cum laude graduate of the Harvard School of Education, where she earned a master’s in education.

Before joining the family foundation, she worked as a psychotherapist, focusing her practice on teenagers and college students. She frequently offered her services for free or at a reduced rate.

A lover of the arts, she served as an overseer at the Museum of Fine Arts, was co-founder and director of the Thomas Segal Gallery, and supported the Boston Symphony and Tanglewood.

In addition to her husband and father, she leaves her daughter, Jennifer Herman, and her husband, Mark Herman; her son, Jonathan Segal; two sisters, Ellen Jaffee and her husband, Robert Jaffe, and Linda Waintrup and her husband, Daniel Waintrup; five grandchildren, Ashley, Zachary and Alexandra Herman, and Coby and Ethan Zinner; and two stepsons, Dan Zinner and Darren Zinner.

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