For Bruce Bates, 50 years as a trustee at Rochester Institute of Technology have gone by quickly.
Bates, who marks his semicentennial in that position this month, is modest about his part in shepherding the university over the decades. He’s gotten much more out of RIT than he has ever given to it, Bates says.
Still, he has worked with seven RIT presidents during his tenure and witnessed the campus move to Henrietta from downtown Rochester and expansion of its enrollment, faculty and course offerings to become a global academic institution. Bates has been an RIT benefactor for more than 30 years in a row, a rare occurrence for any institution. He has given more than $4 million to RIT.
“Obviously (since) I’ve been on the board for 50 years, it went very well,” says Bates wryly.
His relationship with RIT started in 1968 when Arthur Stern, then chairman of the board, invited Bates to join the Nathaniel Rochester Society, which aims to develop friends and ambassadors to promote and support RIT. Bates was appointed to the board of trustees two years later.
Bates, now 89, recalls being asked to represent the younger generation.
“I was halfway between the old and the new,” he says.
Bates currently is honorary chair and chair emeritus of the RIT board. (He was chairman from 1984 to 1987.) RIT’s growth and success stems from its ability to train students for high-technology careers, Bates believes.
“RIT has the right courses to enable students who go there successfully get a job and … produce jobs for students that are very worthwhile in today’s high technology,” he says.
Born in Ontario, Canada, to parents who worked for the Lifesavers candy company—his father was president and general manager and his mother treasurer—Bates eventually moved to the United States to study at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He later earned degrees at Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Rochester entered Bates’ life in 1956. He made partner at D.B. Bonbright, then housed in the Powers Building, and worked in the financial community for nearly six decades. Bates retired as senior vice president at Morgan Stanley in 2014. He has been actively involved in the Rochester community, impacting various organizations such as the Rochester Area Community Foundation, and setting examples for others.
“For me, he was a great role model; he was the ideal chairman,” says Thomas Judson Jr., an RIT emeritus trustee and chairman of the Pike Cos., in a video tribute to Bates. “I mean he’s a doer, but in a very wonderful, low-key way. I think of him as one of the great leaders in the philanthropic community in Rochester.”
RIT chose to recognize Bates’ giving spirit in September, honoring him with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement in Philanthropy Award. At RIT, two named scholarships established by Bates have supported more than 300 students so far.
“It was an opportunity for me to help kids who probably didn’t have sufficient funds to do their whole education,” Bates says. “I could help them with the scholarship money, so there I was in an opportune space in my life to help them get their degrees without having too much expense thereafter.”
He also supported athletics. The university got its first named endowed coaching position for Tiger athletic programs through the Bates Women’s Hockey Coach Endowed Fund. The donation supports the salary of the women’s head hockey coach in perpetuity. It also provides budget relief for athletics.
“Endowed coaching positions across the country are not common, and endowed women’s coaches are even rarer,” says Celeste Brown, the current Bruce B. Bates Head Women’s Hockey Coach. “The endowment allows our players to have the ultimate student-athlete experience as well as an opportunity to become the greatest versions of themselves by the time they graduate.”
Yet another gift from Bates created the Bruce B. Bates Endowed Professorship, providing funds for a faculty member and their research.
“This lifetime achievement award is intended to be offered to people who have demonstrated the pinnacle of achievement in terms of service to the institution, and I can’t think of a better person to be the first recipient,” says RIT president David Munson. “Bruce quietly went about making a difference in innumerable people’s lives because he believed it was the right thing to do.”
RIT’s online memory book for Bates has numerous tributes from students, faculty and fellow trustees.
“I don’t think it would have been possible for me to attend college without accumulating significant debt if not for Mr. Bates’ scholarship. I didn’t have to shoulder the burden of working multiple jobs in school to meet tuition obligations in addition to everyday expenses,” writes Cindy Gomez, an engineering graduate.
As he looks back, Bates says he was “happy to participate.”
“I was not halfway as smart as most of the kids, but I was lucky to be able to move ahead in life and save some money and give some money to the institution,” he says.
Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.