Donna Marie Robinson Lived Her Life Always Putting Service Above Self

How Donna Marie Robinson Dedicates Herself to Improving the Lives of Others
Donna Marie Robinson (far left) participating in the Encinitas Coastal Rotary's Feed the Marines event at Camp Pendleton.

The San Diego Foundation (TSDF) has created the Donna Marie Robinson Memorial Scholarship Fund in honor of our Board of Governors member who recently passed. Donna Marie was a courageous and extraordinary woman who made a profound difference in everything she did. Her generosity, compassion, and commitment to her causes were exemplary. She lived her life always putting service above self.

Click here to contribute to the Donna Marie Robinson Memorial Scholarship Fund.

Below is a letter from TSDF Board Chair P. Kay Coleman sharing her thoughts on her beloved friend and colleague. Following Kay’s letter is the re-publishing of an article from February 2019 spotlighting Donna Marie and her impact.

Dear Colleagues and Friends,

I write to share the sad news that our fellow board member and my best friend, Donna Marie Robinson, passed away on Memorial Day, May 31st after a six-year battle with cardiomyopathy. Donna Marie suffered a sudden cardiac event at home. Despite heroic efforts by EMTs, she could not be revived.

Donna Marie was a courageous and extraordinary woman who made a profound difference in everything she did, including her service as a member of the Executive Committee of TSDF’s Board of Governors, a member and past president of Encinitas Coastal Rotary, and a member of the Circle of Red of the San Diego Chapter of the American Heart Association. Her generosity, compassion, and commitment to her causes were exemplary. And, she generously supported all of her friends’ causes, too. She lived her life always putting service above self.

Even stronger was her devotion to her family and her many friends. Donna Marie found her soulmate in her loving spouse, Cynthia, and they celebrated 32 wonderful years together. She was a loving daughter to her parents, Ray and Lottie Robinson, and the best sister to Rhonda Groll, all of Plymouth, MN. She was also a fabulous aunt to Josh and Jordan Groll and their families.

In her seven years of service as TSDF Governor, Donna Marie served in numerous leadership roles including:

  • Chair of Governance Committee
  • Member, Executive Committee
  • Member, CEO Search Committee
  • Member, Strategic Planning Task Force
  • Member, Governance Task Force
  • Long-time Member, Scholarships Committee
  • Board Secretary
  • Member, COVID-19 Loan Committee Advisory Council
  • Member, Black Community Investment Fund Advisory Council

With a passion for creating positive change and seeing young lives flourish, Donna Marie was heavily involved with the TSDF Scholarship Program. She spent countless hours volunteering her time every year to review applications and determine award recipients. Her enthusiasm, smile, devotion, and sharp wit made her a true joy for her board colleagues, staff partners, and friends to be around.

Donna Marie and Cynthia also created a Donor Advised Fund, The KR Fund for Change, at The San Diego Foundation. The Donna Marie Robinson Memorial Scholarship Fund at TSDF honors Donna Marie’s life and her impact on our organization as a whole and in the communities she loved.

Godspeed, Donna Marie. Know that you will be missed and never forgotten. Trust that we will embody your spirit and carry it forward in your honor.

Warmest regards,

P. Kay Coleman
Board Chair


Originally published February 27, 2019.

Walking through the hallways one fall afternoon at the University of Chicago, Donna Marie Robinson was not actively seeking out philanthropy.

In fact, it was the beginning of her senior year and she was likely planning to join her friends the following semester for a relaxing, fun week at the beach during their last spring break together. What she didn’t know at the time was that one serendipitous moment was about to shape the course of her life forever.

As she strolled across campus, she noticed a flyer hanging on one of the bulletin boards outside a classroom. The advertisement was for a service program opportunity for students to help underserved communities in the Appalachia region.

Despite not knowing anyone else participating, she decided on a whim to sign up and spend her senior year spring break fixing up houses and helping families who needed extra support.

“I didn’t know what to expect at first, but I felt called to sign up when I saw that flyer,” shared Donna Marie Robinson, Board Member and donor at The San Diego Foundation. “There was something appealing about spending a week with a disparate group of people who had a common goal of making a difference.”

During that trip along the West Virginia and Kentucky border, Donna Marie painted homes and cleaned up communities while building relationships with the families she was helping. That direct interaction showed her just how important and impactful philanthropy was.

Since then, Donna Marie has always made time to give back.

Leaving Her Legacy

Donna Marie Robinson

Upon graduating, Donna Marie set out to deepen her philanthropy and make a difference wherever she could.

Even at a time when women weren’t allowed into certain social groups, she sought out young professionals’ clubs that prioritized community service.

She spent her free time building homes with Habitat for Humanity, delivering food to seniors through Meals on Wheels, and lifting the spirits of terminally-ill children at a local Children’s Hospital. And the list goes on.

“The human to human interaction is really what makes philanthropy so impactful and rewarding for me,” shared Donna Marie. “You never know whose life you are going to touch by giving back. Whether it was through the families I met in Appalachia, or in the faces and smiles of the children or seniors I was able to connect with, I saw firsthand how important this work was.”

At every stage of her career and life, Donna Marie has been involved in the community.

What first started as a single experience over spring break has now evolved into a legacy of giving and impact that benefits San Diegans.

“At first, it was just giving my time and talent,” explained Donna Marie. “Over time, I have been able to do more financially and support the organizations that I know are making the most impact.”

Today, Donna Marie is a very active community leader in San Diego, giving her time, talent, treasure and testimony wherever she can.

She advocates for health education as a member of the Executive Leadership Team for the American Heart Association in San Diego. Donna Marie helps students pursue their academic dreams as a Scholarship Committee Member at The San Diego Foundation. And through her donor-advised fund, she invests in impactful programs throughout the region that help improve the lives of families just like those she helped in Appalachia.

“Philanthropy is part of who I am,” explained Donna Marie. “My life is richer because I am able to give back to others and make a difference in the community.”

Donna Marie is the perfect example of how generous the San Diego region is. As she summarized, “We succeed as a society when everybody succeeds individually, and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with so many likeminded leaders across the region who help strengthen our communities through philanthropy.”

Contribute to the Donna Marie Robinson Memorial Scholarship Fund