Upon entering the cool and quiet sanctuary of the on-campus Gallery named in her honor, Lora Robins's oil-painted portrait hangs to the right of the foyer above the exquisite floor made of semi-precious stone.

The Gallery of Design from Nature was a personal treasure to the 98-year-old who died last Sunday.

In fact, the Gallery's current expansive collections of cultural art and artifacts, from Jurassic dinosaur fossils to other natural gems, began with Robins's collection of rocks from her own basement, former University of Richmond President Bruce Heilman said.

While Robins helped to literally contribute the rocks that became the foundation for the collection at the Lora Robins Gallery, she is perhaps best remembered for the contributions that she and her late husband, E. Claiborne Robins, made to the university, which set the bedrock for Richmond's growth and expansion.

Heilman knew the Robins family and remained a close personal friend to Mr. and Mrs. Robins since his appointment as president in 1971. Heilman likened the couple to two tributaries joining into a common flow; once they came together, they were a force to be reckoned with, Heilman said.

"You wouldn't recognize the university that was here [when I became president] -- it was everything but out of business," Heilman said. " 'Only a miracle,' said [former] President George Modlin, 'would save the University from ceasing to exist.' The Robins were that miracle to the university."

One of the distinct qualities about the Robins' was that they didn't just give their money, they also traveled many times to raise money to help make Richmond one of the finest small private universities in the nation, Heilman said.

Although Lora Robins may not have been as prominent a figure as her husband, Heilman recalled that Mr. Robins insisted it be known that both he and his wife were responsible for their contributions to the University.

"When I look at his statue [in the academic quad], I almost see her standing next to him," Heilman said.

Heilman described Mrs. Robins as a warm and close friend with an effervescent spirit. Up until the past year, he took Mrs. Robins out to breakfast with some regularity at Aunt Sarah's Pancake House or Denny's to discuss the Gallery and other university matters.

Heilman smiled as he said he learned to know Mrs. Robins as a mutual acquaintance had described her when he first became president: a woman who didn't "suffer fools gladly."

She was serious-minded and liked to deal with those who were seriously interested in important issues, but she was also apt to appreciate a good joke and easy to be around, he said.

Robins's eleemosynary efforts went far beyond her beloved Gallery, however, and even further beyond the University of Richmond community. Mr. and Mrs. Robins were also active in improving various cultural and historical landmarks in the Richmond area, such as the Science Museum of Virginia, the Virginia Historical Society, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.

In Robins's obituary that appeared in the Times Dispatch on August 24th, her daughters recalled her proclivity for "quiet philanthropy."

Jackie Huffines, the Lora Robins Gallery receptionist, also spoke fondly about Mrs. Robins's desire to affect good without recognition.

Huffines recalled a day when the Gallery was short-handed and Mrs. Robins helped her to prepare the catering for a group of students without hesitation.

"She came in tennis shoes and a house dress and started helping me stuff small tomatoes with tuna," Huffines said.

Huffines said she had asked Mrs. Robins if she wanted to meet the group of students visiting the Gallery. Standing across from her oil-painted portrait in her tennis shoes, Robins asked, "Do you think they'll believe I'm Lora Robins?"

But, her "quiet philanthropy" will not go unnoticed on Richmond's campus, Richmond College Dean Joe Boehman said. The University would not be here without the influence and help of both Mr. and Mrs. Robins in financing the growth of the institution, Boehman said.

Dr. Heilman attributes the Robins's donations and efforts to improve the university as the "seed" that allowed Richmond to grow into one of the finest private universities in the nation today.

"People say money is the root of all evil -- But money is the root of all good when applied to good things," Heilman said.

Fortunately, the university's students and faculty can thank Lora Robins and her husband for their gifts to the university, as well as their dedication and sincere desire to make Richmond into the institution it is today.

Contact reporter Kristy Burkhardt kristy.burkhardt@richmond.edu.