Patricia Gruber is Rotary Person of the Year

All voices were stilled Wednesday, with not a murmur in the Frenchman’s Reef dining room, as the island’s annual guessing game came to its dramatic end with the announcement of Patricia Gruber of the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation as the Rotary Club of St. Thomas II 2013 Person of the Year.

Selection committee chairman Elliott MacIver Davis presented Gruber with the coveted Lladro statuette of knight-errant Don Quixote, the club’s symbol of service over self. Davis said Gruber represents selfless dedication to the community, embodying all the qualities of the award.

"It would never occur to our recipient that she was to be the focus of our collective commendation for her service to the people of the Virgin Islands and, indeed, the world,” he said. “She is an integral part of the team of two that has literally reshaped the world in which they live."

The Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation was established in 1993 as a philanthropic mission. Since 2000, it has presented annual prizes through a series of international awards that recognize human achievements in the fields of cosmology, genetics, neuroscience, justice and women’s rights, Davis said.

Wednesday’s honoree appeared more taken by surprise than the usual suspect. True to Davis’s prediction, Gruber was visibly astonished as she a rose from her table and approached the podium, where Davis had, as a matter of fact, seated her about 20 minutes beforehand.

After a tentative smile and generous thank you to everyone, she said, "I had no suspicion, not a clue. My husband will be delighted." Then, turning to Davis, she said. "Mac you are a total rascal."

Davis, who prides himself on never, never revealing the identity of the honoree beforehand, had taken matters a bit further this year. Usually the honoree is lured to the luncheon by friends on one pretext or another. Davis personally had invited Gruber to lunch to show her the remodeled Reef dining room.

Patricia Gruber has a background in liberal arts, holding a master’s degree in psychology from Antioch West University and a post-master’s certificate in psychology from the Psychotherapy Institute in Berkeley. Previously a psychotherapist in private practice in California, she has in recent years devoted herself full time to the foundation. In 2010, she was awarded a Ph.D. honoris causa from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovat, Israel, for her work with the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation.

Peter Gruber was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1929, and escaped to India with his parents in 1939, three months before the Second World War engulfed Europe. He was educated in the Himalayas by Irish Christian Brothers and Jesuits, sparking a lifelong dedication to scholarship and human rights. He later came to the United States, where he launched a successful investment career and is recognized as a pioneer in the area of emerging markets. Eventually he amassed a fortune that made it possible to support the pursuit of intellectual discovery with the foundation. Yale University president Richard C. Levin recently announced the Gruber Foundation at Yale University, funded by a landmark contribution from the Grubers.

By way of introducing Patricia Gruber, Davis asked, "What is missing from Peter’s fascinating biography?"

"What is missing is the moment of epiphany," Davis said. "The catalyst for change, the shift that brought potential into reality in the life of Peter Gruber, is here with us today.

"It was kismet," Davis said. "There was no turning back for either. Their love and marriage are the backdrop for the great things they were destined to accomplish together. It is truly a beautiful thing."

But Davis added, "The vicissitudes of life are not." He spoke of Peter Gruber’s current illness where he said "his voice, though not his mind, has been largely silenced by illness. Although Peter is unable to join us today for the celebration of the woman who was by his side every step of the way."

While overseeing her husband’s care, Davis said, Gruber serves as president of the Gruber Foundation, serves on several boards including the American Bar Association’s Center for Human Rights and the International League for Human Rights at the United Nations.

Closer to home, the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation has endowed five full scholarships at Antilles School and the establishment of the Laws of Life contest for secondary school to the Peter Gruber International Academy at Montessori School.

Speaking after the presentation amid folks congratulating her, Gruber said, "This community has provided my inspiration and support over the 18 years we’ve lived here. It is our home."

As to what she feels is her greatest accomplishment, Gruber didn’t hesitate. "Why, it’s the good friends I have here."

Though Gruber wasn’t about to elaborate on her career, one of those friends and longtime employee of the foundation, Bernetia Akin, was pleased to talk of Gruber’s years as director of grants and administration of the foundation. "She is caring, generous, extremely creative and smart," Akin said, "and she saved my life."

Akin didn’t want to dwell on this last part, but she said a few years ago when she suddenly had had a medical emergency, Gruber had arranged everything from a medical aircraft to the stateside hospital.

"She has enlarged my world view," Akin said. "I learned so much about science through working with professionals in various fields like cosmology, meeting high powered people."

Perhaps feeling she had made her friend sound too lofty, Akin added a personal note. "Patricia tells a wonderful story," Akin said. "She has a wicked sense of humor. She’s really good at telling stories, complete with accents. She just draws you into stories, real stories I mean."

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