donor profile: robin & buzz mcgraw

DONALD McGRAW gave his four sons a choice that he himself never had. They could follow him into the family business, McGraw Hill - at the time one of the largest publishing houses in the world - or they could choose their own paths.

His son Robin, a Berkshire County resident for the last 25 years and a Berkshire School alum, recalls that opting into the company begun by his great-grandfather in 1888 came with conditions. It meant making a life in New York City and putting in "200 percent a day." And Donald was firmly anti-nepotism. Each son would be judged by his abilities, not his surname.

"He looked at me and said, 'For you, that might mean operating the elevator,'" Robin joked recently.

It's a funny line, and there's also something of a metaphor lurking within it. In the many roles he chose instead - teacher and coach, paramedic, volunteer firefighter, board member and philanthropist - Robin McGraw has become a fast-talking, big-hearted embodiment of the community servant. In a way, he's been lifting others up for most of his adult life.

It could have turned out differently, by his own admission. Despite growing up in the genteel horse country of Morris County, New Jersey, he and his brothers were, in Robin's estimation, a "pretty tough group."

Not tough enough for their mother, Anne, however. Through her tireless work on behalf of the local hospital and other causes, she impressed upon them the idea that with their famous name came an obligation to give back more than they had received.

"Our name was on every school book," Robin points out. "Our family wanted to be known as the educators of the world."

It took time to find a way to live up to that responsibility. He supported himself in construction work as he made his way through college. After a near-miss at Olympic fencing and a brief foray into sports commentating, Robin returned to his hometown and took up the mantle of education on the front lines: he taught elementary school.

In 1990, he returned to his alma mater in the Berkshires, where as an administrator, advisor, coach and mentor, his involvement now spans 25 years. It's also where he met his wife, Buzz, who shares his commitment to service.

The couple settled in Egremont, Mass., where Robin asked himself: "So what am I going to do for the town?" The answer was to serve for some 23 years as a volunteer firefighter, including stints as captain and medical officer, while at the same time returning to school to become a professional paramedic.

A science teacher for over 20 years, Buzz led the town's conservation commission and has played leadership roles on the boards of the Flying Cloud Institute and the Berkshire Museum. Along the way, they raised a family and a menagerie of pets in their current home at Black Rock Farm.

In 2007, Donald died, leaving behind a family foundation focused on education and health care that Robin and his two living brothers now run. He and Buzz opened a donor advised fund at Berkshire Taconic to help direct gifts locally.

They have focused their philanthropy in large part on what they regard as overlooked areas in Berkshire County: education and human services. Their giving is matched by their service. Robin sits on the boards Hospice Care in the Berkshires, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Berkshire Healthcare Systems and Volunteers in Medicine, where he helped raise over $150,000 at a recent gala.

"All those human services really help our workforce to go forward," Robin says. "The guys who work at the restaurants, at every pool and landscaping company - they make Berkshire County tick. VIM is especially important because we still have people that are uninsured and need health service."

That lesson was driven home when Robin was diagnosed with a neck cancer in 2014. "It was a terrible year," Robin says. "And if it wasn't for my family, I'm sure I wouldn't be here."

But true to form, he would rather make the case for universal health care than dwell on his own sickness. "This little trip," Robin says of his cancer care, "cost my insurance company almost a million dollars. That's crazy."

The treatment has been a success. The experience has also connected him more deeply to his work. "At one time or another, we're all patients," Robin says. "We're all humans and we all deserve good health coverage."

So it's on to the next campaign for VIM and other causes. More people need his help, and blessed with a second chance, Robin is up to the task.

"I've always been a blue collar guy," he concludes. "Now, with this foundation, we have an ability to really make a difference in other people's lives here in our community."

JohnDolan
JohnDolan

Photo by John Dolan