By Michael Norton
LOWELL — Having already committed $11 million to UMass Lowell, Robert and Donna Manning of Swampscott have topped that example of generosity with the largest cash gift in the history of the University of Massachusetts.
The Mannings, described by UMass as high school sweethearts and Methuen natives who both commuted to what is now UMass Lowell in the 1980s, are giving a donation of $50 million.
The money will be “aimed at increasing access and opportunity across the five-campus university system,” the university said.
“The significance of this gift cannot be overstated,” UMass President Marty Meehan said in a statement.
“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. It says that UMass is a good investment and an opportunity to have direct and immediate impact on the future of the Commonwealth.”
According to UMass, Donna Manning’s 35-year career as an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center inspired the decision to make the first distribution from the gift — a $15 million outlay to endow the UMass Boston nursing program, which will become the Robert and Donna Manning College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
“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,” Donna Manning said in a statement. “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 Mannings plan in the coming months to announce distributions to the other UMass campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell and Worcester.
Robert Manning began work as a research analyst at MFS Investment Management after graduating from the Lowell campus in 1984 with a degree in information systems management.
He rose to become president and CEO at MFS, which has grown to manage more than $670 billion in assets annually. He plans to retire this year.