Preserving Culture: A Legacy Gift to New Mexico

A friendship that started in the U.S. diplomatic corps decades later resulted in one of the largest planned gifts ever received by the New Mexico History Museum.

Charles “Chuck” Robinson was a successful international businessman who started an iron ore mining company in Peru, was an investment banker, and revolutionized shipbuilding with his designs. Later, while serving in President Gerald Ford’s administration, as Undersecretary of Economic Affairs and then Deputy Secretary of State, Robinson met Santa Fe-born Frank Ortiz, then U.S. ambassador to Guatemala.

Eventually, the relationship would benefit the New Mexico History Museum, when both Ortiz and Robinson, with his wife Mara, retired to Santa Fe. Ortiz, a former Museum of New Mexico Foundation trustee, was passionate about preserving New Mexican culture. Through his connections with the Santa Fe donor community, Ortiz was pivotal to the creation of a campus that would expand the New Mexico History Museum beyond the Palace of the Governors, which had served as the state history museum since 1909.

Ortiz shared his lifelong interest with his good friend Mara Robinson, who after moving to Santa Fe immersed herself in the rich history of the Palace of the Governors, making it one of her many philanthropic interests. With the 2007 public launch of the Foundation’s $22 million Shape the Future Campaign, which directed $6.5 million to exhibitions at the New Mexico History Museum and supported other endowment and capital projects in the Museum of New Mexico system, the Robinsons increased their commitment.

After an ask by then-Foundation director Tom Aageson and campaign chair Eileen Wells, the couple provided a $2 million campaign contribution structured as a charitable remainder trust. They received an immediate tax deduction for a portion of their gift upon creation of the trust. In addition, the trust provided the Robinsons income during their lifetimes. Upon their deaths, the remaining trust assets were to be distributed to their many favorite charities—among them, the New Mexico History Museum.

The couple’s generosity was recognized with a 2009 Mayor's Award for Excellence in the Arts. It was acknowledged again upon Chuck’s death in 2014 with a memorial in the New Mexico House of Representatives. In an article in the Santa Fe New Mexican following Mara’s death in late 2020, the couple’s daughter, Heather Robinson, recalled, “She was the instigator. Dad earned the money. She had the real passion for arts and culture and education.”

This past May, the assets from the Robinsons’ charitable remainder trust were released to their beneficiaries. In the case of the History Museum, says executive director Billy Garrett, there are two beneficiaries of the Robinsons’ “transformational bequest—the History Museum and every person connecting with it for years to come.” He adds that the generosity and unrestricted nature of the gift “demonstrates the power of planned giving” by providing the museum important momentum to generate additional planned gifts.

Garrett has sought guidance on how best to maximize this gift from the resident expertise of Foundation trustees and Museum of New Mexico Regents. He summarizes their recommendations as “Fix what needs to be fixed, be strategic and bold, and leverage whenever you can for the museum to thrive and grow.”

One initiative Garrett points to is preserving the fragile, historical materials in the museum’s library and photo archives. By digitizing and cataloguing, the materials can be made available online to researchers, writers, historians, teachers, students and other interested individuals.

Another priority is developing what Garrett describes as an interpretive framework “based on people’s input from around the state which better reflects New Mexico’s diversity, focusing initially on exhibitions in the Palace of the Governors.”

Garrett also sees education playing a role in “strengthening the museum’s relationships with teachers and students statewide.” He believes that Mara Robinson, who was passionate about youth education, would be pleased with the museum’s education department developing online lesson plans and resource kits to be mailed to New Mexico history teachers.

Finally, Garrett says that additional Robinson funding may be directed to several capital improvements identified for the 15-year-old, 96,000-square-foot museum building, including updates to galleries and the lobby. Garrett’s vision is for visitors to experience a welcoming building “devoted to the people of the state” that invites an exploration of New Mexico’s rich, multicultural history.

“The New Mexico History Museum is one of the state’s most valued cultural treasures and an important resource for all New Mexicans,” says Garrett. “I see the Robinsons’ generosity allowing us to find ways to bring people together. One thing is for sure, we will use the Robinson funds to strengthen relationships with the public and ensure the relevance of programs to communities throughout New Mexico.”


This article and image are form the Museum of New Mexico Foundation’s Member News Summer 2023.