Alum Funds Lecture Series to Showcase Excellence and Engagement
Last year Margaret and Robert C. Cole, Jr. ’59 (psychology), retired president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Delaware, made a wonderful commitment to UMass Amherst and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences by establishing the Cole Lecture in Contemporary Issues. Aiming to engage alumni with faculty whose current research has a direct impact on world issues, this year’s lecture on October 28 at the UMass Club in Boston featured Robert Pollin, professor of economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute on campus. He presented “Building the Green New Deal” about developing a clean energy economy in the U.S. and his unique work in modeling the green recovery program for the Obama administration.
“UMass Amherst holds a lot of fond memories for us,” says Bob, who celebrated his 50th reunion this year. "We liked the idea of bringing alumni together with faculty, not only to hear about how their research engages with the world, but also to showcase UMass Amherst faculty research and expertise. By funding this lecture, we can help spread the word about how UMass Amherst is a leader in thinking about and developing policies that affect all of us.”
It is, however, safe to say that when Peggy and Bob were married during their sophomore year at UMass Amherst, they weren’t thinking about establishing a lecture series. They were much more interested in making ends meet and graduating from college. Bob recalls, “When our first child came along, Peggy dropped out of college. She took some classes, but motherhood became her main focus. I continued with my classes full time and worked about 35 hours a week at a local garage to pay the bills.”
When Bob graduated with his BA, Peggy received the PHT degree: Pushing Hubby Through. No kidding. “This award went to wives of graduating students in a very nice ceremony led by the University president, John Paul Mather, and his wife,” says Bob. “It’s hard to believe now, but many of those wives were also members of a group known as the National Association of University Dames!”
That nationwide organization had chapters throughout the country to encourage social unity and advance the interests of students’ wives and mothers. In addition to social events, they provided scholarships, made contributions to the student loan fund, and participated in community activities. “I loved being part of the Amherst community, and made lots of friends, both on and off campus,” Peggy recalls.
After graduation, the Coles stayed in Amherst a while longer, until their third child was born. Then Bob started selling life insurance, until he moved into human resources, the field he had focused on in his psychology and business courses. He started in that field with a plastics manufacturing firm, then moved on as a wage and salary analyst for an aircraft manufacturer. “During that process," Bob says, "I discovered that the line guys got all the credit when things went right, and the HR guys got all the blame when things went wrong. So, I decided to be a line guy and further decided that a group accounts salesman with BlueCross BlueShield of Massachusetts would give me that opportunity. I ultimately worked my way up through a variety of sales and marketing positions to vice president of marketing. I spent 18 in marketing and loved it.”
Then, in 1979, Bob moved to Delaware BlueCross BlueShield where he became president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Delaware, Argentina, Uruguay and Taiwan. Twenty years later he retired from full-time employment, but has continued to provide strategic advice to its board of directors. Over the course of his career, Bob was active in many civic organizations, including being a director of WHYY, Inc., the public radio and television broadcasting company in the greater Philadelphia area, and a member of the Delaware Business Roundtable.
Both Peggy and Bob continue to serve various organizations. She was and still is very active in a variety of organizations including PEO, an international womans philanthropic organization and held a number of positions including State President in Delaware. Bob serves on the boards of several organizations, including Wilmington University, where he leads its compensation committee and serves on the finance committee; and HBCS, a national billing and collection company where he heads its executive compensation committee.
An avid sailor, Bob is a past president and member of the board of directors of the International Nonsuch Association, an organization that is committed to perpetuating the enjoyment of Nonsuch class sailboat cruising, racing and general fellowship. In addition, Bob maintains a small arbitration practice, dealing with large dollar disputes between corporations.
“Life has been good and we enjoy all that it has brought to us,” says Bob. “Peggy and I have now been married for nearly 54 years (and counting!). And she did end up getting that BA degree, graduating with honors in sociology from the University of New Hampshire in 1972. We enjoy our nine grandchildren, do a fair amount of traveling, spend time at our Cape Cod house, and participate in many cultural activities when we’re at home in the Philadelphia/Wilmington area.”
Read more about Robert Pollin.
October 29, 2009