Last week was an exciting one on campus. We unveiled “Bronze Bob,” a life-sized statue of our namesake, the Founding Father from Pennsylvania, Robert Morris. The statue is seated on a bench so that students, professors, alumni, and visitors can have a seat and take their picture with “Financier of the American Revolution.”
The statue is a symbol of student engagement and of giving back to the community. “Bronze Bob” is a gift to the university from the Class of 2013 and from a generous donation from Sid, Ellen, and Geoff Zonn, longtime members of the RMU family. Previous class gifts include the book fund, the memorial gardens, our campus signs, and our ceremonial cannon. This year the Class of 2014 will give medical supplies to the clinic in Nicaragua where our nursing students serve the poor.
My hope is for “Bronze Bob” to become part of a new tradition. Tradition makes a university experience memorable, and creates an emotional connection between the students of today and those who came before and who will come after. RMU has changed substantially over the years, and I believe we should also take time to cultivate and nurture a sense of permanence and constancy. As I told the students at the unveiling, Robert Morris will always be here for you — and not just figuratively, but literally.
Our university is named after a man who risked everything he had for the sake of his country. He is not as famous as George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, but those men knew what a debt America owed to their colleague. Inside the Capitol dome in Washington, D.C., is an enormous fresco, “The Apotheosis of Washington.” It portrays the first president looking down from the heavens, and nearby is Robert Morris, one of a very few Founding Fathers also shown in the painting. Mercury, the God of Commerce, is handing Morris a bag of gold.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple for Morris. He worked hard for years amassing his fortune in Philadelphia. But instead of guarding his wealth, when the war came he made great sacrifices for his country and his fellow Americans. He offered his own ships to fight the British on the seas. When Congress fled for their lives as the Redcoats advanced to occupy Philadelphia, Morris stayed behind to keep the government functioning. He personally made sure the soldiers who crossed the Delaware with Washington had food, blankets, and money in their pockets.
He changed countless lives by doing so. As you know, changing lives is something we believe in at RMU. We strive to enable our students to change the lives of others.
When we were thinking about what kind of statue “Bronze Bob” should be, we decided he should be welcoming. He shouldn’t be some giant towering over the entrance to campus. There’s already a Robert Morris in the Capitol dome and another bigger-than-life statue of him in Philadelphia. We wanted our statue to be part of a new tradition here, something that invites everyone in the RMU family to be a part of it.
I hope that “Bronze Bob” will be a source of fond memories for everyone who comes to campus, students, visitors, and alumni alike. The statue sits right in the center of campus, in a place students pass every day. It’s a acknowledgement of someone who accomplished great things, just as we hope they will. But above all, a person, just like them; someone who had a family, and hopes and dreams and worries, and successes and failures, like all of us do.
Someone you might sit down with on a park bench and just visit for a while.
Gregory G. Dell’Omo, Ph.D.
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