When Robert B. Wegman died two weeks ago, the people of the region, our diocese — and beyond — took notice.
Whether we knew him as spouse, father, brother, grandfather, business colleague, competitor, co-worker, benefactor or friend, we knew that an extraordinary person had left our midst.
Bob Wegman was a businessman of uncommon ability and success. He was a generous person whose philanthropy embraced many worthy causes, and enhanced the lives of countless people.
Based on what I know of those causes to which he directed his funds — and I’m sure that he made many hidden gifts — it seemed that the focus of his philanthropy was to help young people come to their full potential. He gave large sums of money to support educational opportunities for young people from pre-kindergarten through college.
I know that in recent years he chose to direct $42 million to support the opportunity of a Catholic education for children in Rochester who might otherwise never have had that opportunity.
He also gave many millions to other educational purposes — for facilities for the arts and sports at his alma mater, Aquinas Institute; for schools of nursing and pharmacy at St. John Fisher College.
My purpose here is not to list and comment on all of the charitable gifts made by Bob Wegman during the course of his life; they have been well-documented in local and regional media stories. Rather, I want to share a few of my personal memories and reflections about this good friend and generous benefactor:
1) In my experience, Bob’s wife, Peggy — herself a good friend and someone I admire very much — was a close partner with Bob in decisions that directed money to Catholic schools. As I perceived things, that partnership worked this way: Bob focused his attention on the financial situation, test scores and the educational achievement of the students he sought to help. Peggy would be on the scene, garnering first-hand experience of students, teachers, program achievements and possibilities of the schools they were helping. Their pooled insight generated much sound advice and counsel. Their generosity enhanced our capacity to move in good directions.
2) His own experience of Catholic schools and of those who taught him had a deep impact on Bob Wegman. He was deeply thankful for that contribution to his life, and expressed that gratitude often in private and public conversations. From that gratitude flowed his desire to do all he could to ensure that the young people of today might enjoy the same opportunity he had.
In a press conference in which Sister Elizabeth Meegan, superintendent of schools, and I participated on the occasion of Bob’s death, Sister Beth expressed the opinion that Bob saw himself as a boy when he saw the young people of today. That insight has been very helpful to me as I look back on his life and reflect on the good work that he did.
3) His faith was important to this good man. He was intellectually curious, and loved to discuss matters of faith and spirituality with friends. There were moments in his quest for deeper knowledge of God and our faith when he could go no further. He experienced, as we all do, the limits of the human mind in its thirst for complete understanding of the mystery of God. Frustrating as that was, he was patient with his human limitation and acknowledged that he would have to wait for fullness of life before he could understand all that he wanted to understand.
Robert Wegman made contributions to the Rochester community that will serve the area for many years to come. His financial contributions were magnificent, for sure. But, no less than his gifts of money, was his care for the well-being of others and, especially his concern for the health and growth of children and young people continue to inspire us.
May he rest in peace. May their faith, the support of friends and the memories Bob leaves console Peggy, his children and family — and all who loved him.
Peace to all.