Philanthropy as a vehicle for peace

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It’s difficult to say if it was nature or nurture that influenced Joan Robertson’s lifelong passion and philanthropic pursuit for peace.

The Milwaukee native’s mother was Annette J. Roberts, an outspoken pacifist and suffragette who, up until her death at age 102, worked toward world peace and diplomacy through organizations like the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, where she and Jane Addams were charter members. "Mother never pushed it, but she did take us to meetings,” Robertson, 97, recalled with a laugh. "Her zeal and gentle persuasion influenced many to the intelligent, reasonable positions she advocated.”

But Robertson grew up at a time where peace seemed a foreign word in the world’s lexicon. She was born two years after World War I started. The Spanish Civil War was underway while she studied English at the Connecticut College for Women. World War II began while she visited relatives in Europe and the area where her aunt and uncle were living was bombed twice during that time. Shortly before the war ended in 1945, she married A.D. Robertson Jr., cofounder of what became Wisconsin’s largest independently-owned insurance agency, Robertson-Ryan & Associates.

"A lot of things have happened in my lifetime," said Robertson, who, like her mother, has a strong interest in politics and a voracious appetite for current events.

Through the Annette J. Roberts and Joan R. Robertson Fund for World Peace, World Law and Peace Education, Robertson carries out causes her mother championed and fulfills her own. Her late husband created the fund in 1983 in honor of Annette Roberts’ 100th birthday. Robertson, who ardently believes in the power of the United Nations to bring about world peace through international law, is a member of the United Nations Association of the USA and can readily cite certain UN resolutions. Her volunteer work and the fund’s support have revolved around like-minded organizations, such as the Peace Education Project of Peace Action-Milwaukee, the Greater Milwaukee United Nations Association and Ploughshares Fund, whose efforts lead to peace and nonviolence.

But the fund also supports things like the Foundation’s Match Day and Milwaukee Succeeds that Robertson said provide answers to societal problems as well as agencies like Planned Parenthood, Sharp Literacy, Milwaukee Ballet and MPTV Friends.

Robertson believes it will take a long time to change "the war culture," but feels her fund is making inroads and noted that her five children will carry on the tradition of support.

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