Remembering Trustee Dr. Robert N. Mayer

The Nathan Cummings Foundation


Remembering Trustee Dr. Robert N. Mayer

Trustee 1989-2006 and 2010-2011; Associate 2007-2009
February 22, 2016

A devoted family man whose passion, vision and business acumen combined to make him a leader in venture philanthropy, Dr. Robert N. Mayer will be remembered for a lifetime of good works.

Rob, as he was known to those who loved him, was the grandson of Nathan Cummings, and son of Beatrice C. Mayer, a founding trustee of the Nathan Cummings Foundation. During his many years at the Foundation, Rob served as chair of the board, treasurer and trustee. He was known for his great contributions to the Foundation’s head and heart – he was as comfortable leading thoughtful, probing conversations as he was making financial and budgetary decisions, all while being warm, conscientious, and deeply generous. Rob’s insight, analysis and guidance during our formative years helped make the Foundation what it is today.

Before his philanthropic work, Rob spent time in the private sector and founded HomeCorps, a health care company that improved quality of life for the elderly and handicapped. He was known for working with architects on innovative designs to boost the independence and comfort of seniors and others in residential communities.

In everything he did, Rob’s goal was always to help others. He continued his work in health care as founder and president of the Hulda B. and Maurice L. Rothschild Foundation, which pioneered eldercare reform at the policy and local level for more than two decades. The Rothschild Foundation is the only national philanthropy exclusively committed to person-centered long-term care in the United States, and its work has improved the quality of life of residents, patients and families alike in long term care communities.   

Rob served as Chair of the Council on Foundations’ (COF) Family Foundations Conference and on the COF’s Ethics and Practices Committee, as well as the Academic Director at the Center for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University’s School of Management. He founded the American Civil War Museum and was a trustee at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.

As a visionary philanthropist, Rob earned a reputation as a strategic thinker and brilliant advisor, and was often asked to speak on issues related to aging and health care design.  

It was under his leadership that in 2009 the Rothschild Foundation earned the Council on Foundations Critical Impact Award for innovative leadership and bold vision to solve societal issues. In 2012, Healthcare Design Magazine named Rob one of the most influential people in the industry. The following year, Rob accepted the Healthcare Facilities Symposium & Expo Founder’s Award.

Shortly after Rob’s passing, Barry Barkan, a colleague in the field of elderly care, said, “In a philanthropic world that is too often bureaucratic, short on vision and self-congratulatory, Rob Mayer’s approach to activist social venture philanthropy should be a case study for every young person of inherited wealth who wants to invest in leveraging profound social change.”

While Rob was dedicated to improving the lives of the elderly, the handicapped, and so many others, he also was a collector of Civil War presentation swords and an avid traveler. But above all, Rob was devoted to his family – his wife of 40 years, Dr. Debra Weese-Mayer, and his children, Jaimie, Jennifer and Jonathan.

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