Mother’s memory fuels support for Sweet Briar

Posted on February 12, 2014 by Janika Carey

For Robert Livingston Gipson, giving to Sweet Briar is deeply personal. Since 2001, he has been honoring the memory of his late mother, Madeleine LePine Gipson ’33, who passed away when he was only 4, by donating to causes he believes would have mattered to her.

Madeleine LePine Gipson ’33 in her senior picture in the 1933 Briar Patch Madeleine LePine Gipson ’33 in her senior picture in the 1933 Briar Patch

Among several gifts, there was a $5,000 contribution to the French department in 2001, and the piano he and his wife, Nellie, gave to the music department in 2007. There are numerous scholarships provided for international students, something his mother, who majored in French and loved Europe, would have been proud of.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of her graduation, the Gipsons recently gave $25,000 in the form of a “budget-relieving annual gift,” or BRAG, to fund the 2014-2015 Babcock Season.

“We thought we would do something a little extra in 2013,” Gipson says.

While funding the College’s performing arts season was an idea suggested to him by Sweet Briar, it immediately resonated with Gipson. He was sure it would have appealed to his mother, and it certainly appealed to his wife.

“My wife likes the theater, and it seemed like an appropriate thing to do,” he says.

Gipson has made other donations in honor of his two sisters, both of whom graduated from Sweet Briar — Sally Gipson Tully ’69 and Suzanne Gipson Farnham ’57 — but remains especially committed to his mother’s memory.

Like many donors, he appreciates the flexibility that comes with budget-relieving gifts. While benefiting Sweet Briar in much the same way an unrestricted Annual Fund donation would — by funding operating expenses — such gifts also give the donor a say in how the money is used: Gipson can tailor his philanthropy to the things dear to his mother’s heart, making his gifts that much more meaningful.

“That’s kind of what it’s all about,” he says. “Honoring my mother, paying back to society, and recognizing that we’ve both been blessed.”

Nellie and Robert Gipson in 2012 Nellie and Robert Gipson in 2012

Overall, the Gipsons have given nearly $300,000 to Sweet Briar through the Tianaderrah Foundation, a personal philanthropy vehicle founded by Robert Gipson in 1996. The Iroquois word for “meeting place,” Tianaderrah is also the name of Gipson’s family home in Unadilla, N.Y., where his mother was raised. The foundation supports educational and cultural organizations in the Upstate New York region in which the Gipsons live, as well as national entities such as Sweet Briar and the Gipsons’ alma maters, Princeton, Hunter College and New York University. A third of distributions, which total approximately $2 million per year, is allocated internationally, particularly in Bulgaria, Nellie Gipson’s native country.

Establishing the Tianaderrah Foundation Scholarship at Sweet Briar allowed the Gipsons to support his mother’s alma mater while also helping students from Eastern Europe.

Meeting some of the scholarship recipients has been one of their greatest joys.

“It’s very gratifying,” Gipson says.

The first one, in 2005, was a student from Bulgaria. The Gipsons’ donation ensured that she received a four-year scholarship, enabling her to graduate magna cum laude from Sweet Briar in 2009 with a degree in economics.

Success stories like hers make every penny worthwhile to Gipson.

“My wife and I believe that education is the greatest treasure of all,” he says, adding, with a chuckle, “Other than health, maybe.”