Julian Robertson left lasting impact on Salisbury 

Published 12:10 am Thursday, August 25, 2022

By Jason Walser
For the Salisbury Post

SALISBURY — Tuesday was a sad day for Rowan County as members of the community learned of the passing of one of the area’s greatest benefactors and cheerleaders. Julian H. Robertson Jr. has touched the lives of every reader of this article, in one way or another.

How many people can have that said about them?

Robertson passed peacefully at his home in Manhattan overlooking Central Park having lived a full, meaningful and generous life.

Born to Blanche Spencer and Julian H. Robertson Sr. in Salisbury in 1932, Julian Robertson was known for his wonderful sense of humor, intelligence and being a courteous young man. He attended public schools in Salisbury, Virginia Episcopal School and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he studied business.

He went on to serve in the Navy before heading to New York City to begin an illustrious career in finance and investment. His first job was in securities investments with Kidder Peabody, and Co. He then launched his own Wall Street investment firm, which began his second career in mutual fund, private investment and hedge fund management. Several books have been written about the unique combination of skills, patience, prudence and work ethic that he brought to Wall Street, as he was regarded as both a “Titan” and “Tiger” of Wall Street.

But Julian never forgot where he came from.

Although most people revered him for his business success, his philanthropy and generosity were noted by those who knew him as his greatest attribute. He made a name for himself in New York City as being one of the most generous business leaders ever, and he inspired thousands of other financially successful leaders to be similarly generous.

It is impossible to measure the impact his philanthropy has had on the world that he leaves behind.

In Salisbury, it is hard to overstate the impact that he has had in the lives of all of us. From his involvement with the Robertson Performance Arts Center at Catawba College to his support of the Rowan Helping Ministries shelter, he has helped to weave the fabric of our community from afar.

In 1997, Robertson worked with local attorney William Kluttz Jr. to create the new Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation that he decided to create in honor of his recently deceased parents. He endowed the foundation with $15 million, and insisted that proceeds from the foundation must remain in Rowan County to only support programs and organizations in this community, which his parents loved so much.

Over the following 25 years, he contributed an additional $12 million to the foundation, which in turn has reinvested those funds in the community. To date, Robertson has invested more than $42 million in Rowan County, and the foundation will continue to make additional investments in local nonprofits indefinitely.

Current president of the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation, Dr. Bret Busby, said, “Today, Salisbury has lost one of its greatest sons. He believed in us even when we sometimes didn’t believe in ourselves. He pushed us and challenged us and supported us. It is hard to overstate the love he had for all of the citizens of Salisbury and Rowan County.”

Former Salisbury Mayor Margaret Kluttz agreed, and noted, “Julian could be tough. He asked hard questions, and he sometimes made our foundation board defend projects we thought important to our community. But he always said that our local board was the most valuable asset the foundation had. He was mighty proud of his parents, his siblings and his hometown. And although he always had plenty of other things that he could be doing, he seemed to relish coming to Salisbury to learn about grants we were making in Rowan County. It has been a privilege and an honor to work with such a kind and generous person over these years.”

The Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation will continue to operate with representation from Julian’s sister, Wyndham Robertson, as well as children Alex and Spencer Robertson.

Susan Kluttz, also a former mayor of Salisbury and current chairperson of the Grants Committee, said “Over the years, our foundation has supported more than 130 different nonprofits and made game-changing investments in our community. From the recent Bell Tower Green Park to investments in innovation in the Rowan Salisbury School System to support of community development efforts, many of the most promising initiatives in Salisbury and Rowan County would not be a reality without the generosity of Julian Robertson. We all owe him a debt of gratitude, and a responsibility to pay forward the blessings he has bestowed upon us.”

On the world stage, Robertson is known as one of the largest private contributors to combating climate change (which he claims to have developed interest in through inspiration from his Salisbury childhood friend, Fred Stanback).

He is one of the most admired philanthropists in New Zealand for his contributions to their environmental sustainability efforts, as well as economic and cultural development. He and the love of his life, Josie, fell in love with New Zealand early in their marriage and never let their dedication to it fade. He is, to date, the largest financial contributor of art to public museums in New Zealand in the country’s history.

On the national level, Robertson made a name for himself contributing to causes involving community development, arts, cancer research, land conservation and innovative public education programs.

In North Carolina, he is praised for his support of programs at the University of North Carolina, which includes his innovative Robertson Scholars program that funds scholarships for students who study courses at both UNC and Duke. Furthermore, he made quiet but very significant contributions to the North Carolina Museum of Art so that citizens from his home state might be able to appreciate some of the greatest art ever created.

But at the end of the day, Julian’s connection to North Carolina, the nation, and the world was rooted in his childhood growing up in Salisbury.

Julian’s childhood friend Fred Stanback Jr. recounted how the best fireworks shows in Salisbury were provided by the Robertson family, who wanted to celebrate their community and nation at national holidays.

Blanche Spencer Robertson, Julian’s mother, was a founding member, and strong advocate, for Historic Salisbury Foundation, which helped preserve the authenticity of the Salisbury that exists today.

In a 2013 interview, Julian Robertson said “Salisbury was a wonderful place to grow up.” He then went on to say, “Everybody should be required to grow up in a small town (like Salisbury).”

Julian H. Robertson Jr. was a better person because of Salisbury.

Salisbury is a better place because of Julian H. Robertson Jr.

Jason Walser is executive director of the Blanche and Julian Robertson Family Foundation.