Native Methuen Couple Donate $50 Million Cash Gift to UMass System to Increase Opportunity

Donna and Robert Manning. (Courtesy photograph.)

A native Methuen couple has given a cash gift of $50 million to the University of Massachusetts—the largest gift of any kind in the university’s history and aimed at increasing access and opportunity across the five-campus system.

Robert J. and Donna Manning, who were high school sweethearts, both commuted to UMass Lowell, with Robert receiving a degree in information systems management in 1984 and Donna receiving a nursing degree in 1985 and a master’s in business administration from UMass Lowell in 1991. They each also received an honorary doctor of humane letters from UMass Lowell in 2011. The first distribution of the $50 million will be $15 million to endow the UMass Boston nursing program, which will become the Robert and Donna Manning College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Donna Manning’s 35-year career as an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center inspired the decision to focus the gift on nursing at UMass Boston. Known for her dedication to patients, Manning donated her salary to the hospital each year.

“For the majority of my career in Boston, I was struck by the fact that most of the nurses looked like me while most of the patients didn’t,” said Manning. “UMass Boston plays a critical role in supporting diversity in Boston, and I have seen first-hand how diversity in the nursing workforce can improve patient care and address health inequities. We look forward to actively working with the college on these important goals.”

The College of Nursing and Health Sciences is the fastest-growing college at UMass Boston and offers the only four-year public programs in nursing and exercise and health sciences in the Greater Boston area. The undergraduate and graduate population of approximately 2,100 students in the college is 19% Black, 12% Latinx and 11% Asian American Pacific Islander.

“This transformational gift from Rob and Donna comes at the right time and the right place and for a beautiful cause: to foster a culture of healing and health equity in Boston and beyond. It will enable UMass Boston to take the education of the next generation of nurses nobly serving as caregivers to the next level of excellence and engagement,” said UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco.

In the coming months, the Mannings plan to announce distributions from the overall gift to improve access and opportunity on the other UMass campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester.

The Mannings, who now reside in Swampscott, were already among UMass’ greatest supporters, having committed more than $11 million to UMass Lowell, where the Manning School of Business bears their name. On the Lowell campus, they have endowed several faculty chairs, sponsored a nursing simulation lab and established the Robert and Donna Manning Endowed Scholarship Fund. The Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching is awarded to faculty on all five UMass campuses for high-impact teaching.

“Donna and I are at a point in our lives where we want to make a real difference, and this was the best way to do that, because we know what UMass does for students. It transforms lives,” said Robert Manning, who is chairman of MFS Investment Management and the long-time chair of the UMass Board of Trustees.

“The significance of this gift cannot be overstated,” said UMass President Marty Meehan. “Rob and Donna are two of our own. As first-generation college graduates, they experienced the transformational impact UMass has on students’ lives. Rob and Donna have always led by example in their philanthropy, and this remarkable gift is a call to action to the philanthropic community.”

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