The longtime Elon leader and benefactor passed away Aug. 21.
Elon Trustee Jeanne Swanner Robertson, one of the university’s most loyal and generous supporters and a nationally renowned public speaker and humorist, died Aug. 21. She was 77.
Robertson and her husband Jerry, who passed away June 7, had been leading advocates for Elon athletics and the success of student-athletes since the mid-1980s. Jeanne was elected to the board of trustees in 2003 and was a member of the board’s Campus Life and Athletics Policy committees.
“We have lost one of Elon’s greatest friends,” said President Connie Ledoux Book. “Jeanne Robertson loved to tell the Elon story wherever she went, and she backed up her words with active participation at meetings, events and games; generous gifts to the university; and personal involvement with our students, who she often hosted at her home for team dinners. Jeanne was passionate about Elon, education and student success, and we will miss her deeply.”
Director of Athletics Dave Blank said Elon was immensely fortunate that Jeanne and Jerry Robertson made their home in Burlington, North Carolina, and adopted the university as their own. Both were athletes and knew what it meant to compete. But it was the relationship between academics and athletic competition at Elon that made them so supportive of the university and its mission.
“You couldn’t ask for two more dedicated and committed supporters of Elon Athletics than Jerry and Jeanne Robertson,” Blank said. “To lose them both this summer is just gut-wrenching. Through the years, they established deep connections with student-athletes, coaches, staff and fellow fans. With a one-of-a-kind personality, Jeanne lifted up Elon Athletics, whether it was cheering in the stands or lending her support to our programs.”
Robertson was a fixture of the annual Elon Day and Night of the Phoenix events that generate support for athletic programs and student-athletes. She was a true fan who regularly attended games and sporting events. “She liked to get to know the students on a personal level and have a connection with young people,” Blank said.
In 2017 Jeanne and Jerry Robertson were honored by then-President Leo M. Lambert with the Elon Medallion in recognition of their distinguished service to the university over many years. A decade earlier, the couple had been honored with the Southern Conference Distinguished Service Award in recognition of their exemplary leadership and support of Phoenix athletics. In 2010 they made a lead gift to fund renovations of Alumni Gymnasium where Elon’s basketball and volleyball teams competed.
In 2014 the university named the Jerry and Jeanne Robertson Track and Field Complex in their honor following their gift to fund improvements of the facility. The Robertsons also made gifts to honor former Elon Athletics Director Alan White and his wife, Norma, who were close personal friends of the Robertsons. The Dr. Alan and Norma White Field at the track complex, and the Alan J. White Bell Tower adjacent to the football, baseball and soccer stadiums were named by the Robertsons in recognition of the Whites’ service to Elon.
The Robertsons contributed to the construction of Schar Center, which opened in 2018, and the main basketball court there is named Robertson Court in recognition of their gifts to help fund that facility, along with their previous contributions to renovate Alumni Gym.
In addition to their support of Elon athletics, the Robertsons have been consistent donors to many other university projects and priorities, always with a primary focus on students and their success. Jeanne gave Elon’s Commencement address in 2005, urging graduates to look for humor in their daily lives. She said that practice would have many benefits, including making friends, supporting better health, career advancement and improved attitude in times of stress. “In the big world, you’re gonna get so inundated with stuff that you may think there’s no humor happening. Oh, it’s happening,” she said.
Jeanne and Jerry Robertson’s son Beaver and their two grandsons have attended Elon.
In her illustrious career as a professional speaker and humorist, Robertson averaged up to 100 presentations annually to groups around the world annually. She was the author of four books and produced numerous humor videos. She had a large following on YouTube (recording millions of views) and Facebook and produced popular programs for SiriusXM radio comedy channels. Many of her humorous presentations related to her distinction of being named Miss North Carolina at the age of 19, and her subsequent title of Miss Congeniality awarded at the 1963 Miss America pageant. She was proud to be a native of Graham, North Carolina, and charmed audiences with Southern humor, stories about life as a 6’2” woman, and a steady stream of anecdotes about Jerry (aka “Left Brain”) and her “bestest friend” Norma Rose (White).
Robertson used her scholarship funds from the Miss America pageant to fund her college education at Auburn University, where she played on the basketball team and graduated in 1967. Following college, she taught physical education in North Carolina for eight years.
Robertson took her comedy skills seriously. She was designated a Certified Speaking Professional by the National Speakers Association (NSA) and served as the group’s president in 1985. She was inducted into the NSA Speaker Hall of Fame in 1981, joining such luminaries as Ronald Reagan, Zig Ziglar and Norman Vincent Peale, and was the first woman to receive the NSA Cavett Award in 1989. She was also honored with the Toastmaster’s International Golden Gavel Award, joining the likes of Earl Nightingale, Art Linkletter and Walter Cronkite. She was named North Carolinian of the Year in 2001 by the North Carolina Press Association.
A Celebration of Life service will be held at Front Street United Methodist Church, 136 Fisher Street, Burlington at 2 p.m., Sunday, August 29. The church will livestream the service. Click on this link and then click on the YouTube image to view the memorial service. A continuation of celebrating Jeanne’s life will take place at Alamance Country Club in Burlington from 3:30 to 5:30 pm. Burial will be private at an earlier date.
Memorials may be made to the charity of one’s choice, particularly to groups such as Peg’s Pjs (pegspjs.com, 2228 Walker Avenue, Burlington, NC 27215) or to any charity that benefits young people.