Extraordinary Commitment Today With a Firm Eye on Tomorrow

Jill and Bob Blackwood“You’ve never been to a Zoom meeting until you’ve been to a first-grade Zoom meeting!” This smiling observation came from Jill Blackwood ’83, who, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, was regularly helping her first- and third-grade grandchildren with their weekly online school assignments. Retired after a long career in education, Jill was redeploying her literacy education skills—and you couldn’t have asked for a better teacher!

Jill earned her master’s in education in 1983, the year after her husband, Bob, graduated with a degree in accounting, adding to the MBA he had earned at USM four years earlier. Both have kept close ties with their alma mater, serving in multiple volunteer capacities, cheering on the Huskies at sporting events and giving generously in support of scholarships at USM.

For these Husky alumni, USM has been integral not only to their own lives and careers, but also to the success of southern Maine. “As an educator, I never really left USM,” says Jill whose career includes 14 years as an assistant principal and principal of Riverton School in Portland and later as assistant superintendent for Portland Schools. “USM has been a great resource for educators in the area and always a great partner when we needed a course put together for our teachers.”

“For a community to be successful,” adds Bob, “it needs a strong university. USM is that university, the economic driver of our region.”

This shared conviction helps explain the Blackwoods’ extraordinary service and commitment to the future of USM. Jill served on USM’s School of Education and Human Development Advisory Board for more than a decade and in June 2021, Bob will retire from the USM Foundation Board of Directors, where he currently serves as treasurer. He served for nine years on USM’s advisory Board of Visitors, ending his long term as chair. Previously, Bob served twice as president of the alumni association and was a member of the School of Business Advisory Board, among other boards and committees. Bob was also alumni co-chair of the 21st Century Campaign for Excellence, helping to achieve 12% of campaign contributions from alumni.

Bob has been recognized for his service many times, including receiving the USM Distinguished Achievement Award in 2011. He and Jill have also co-chaired the annual School of Music Scholarship Gala. Bob continues to serve on the Athletic Development Council and the Alumni Engagement Council, where he has big plans for helping to grow the USM alumni network.

Expanding the Blackwood Family Scholarship

Twenty years ago, Bob and Jill established the Blackwood Family Scholarship Fund, which provides four-year scholarships to graduates of South Portland High School who are enrolled at USM. The Blackwood connection with South Portland High runs four generations deep: Bob, his father, his two uncles, two aunts, two siblings and two children all graduated from South Portland High School—and their endowed scholarship program is a powerful way of giving back.

Scholarship support has been essential for South Portland High graduate Josie DiPhillipo ’21, a piano performance major at the USM School of Music: “It has given me the unique opportunity to further my skills while making valuable connections in the local community.” Enjoy Josie’s School of Music Gala performance of Reflets dans l’eau by Claude Debussy.

Recently, Jill and Bob made a major commitment to add to the Blackwood Family Scholarship Fund through a bequest that will significantly expand its impact. Their planned gift will enable the fund to provide additional and more flexible scholarship support over the years and help even more South Portland High grads complete their education at USM.

“We see this as a continuation of our commitment to both institutions and a way to ensure that the Blackwood Family Scholarship remains in perpetuity, helping many more talented students earn their USM degree and change their lives forever,” says Bob.

One thing that both Bob and Jill have missed during the pandemic is the chance to see and hear from USM students in person. “At our Foundation Board meetings, I’ve always been really inspired by the students who speak as part of our ‘mission moments,’” comments Bob. “When you hear their success stories, you can’t help but be impressed and inspired to do more for students.”

Jill misses running into her former students around town. “I am amazed at the number of former Riverton School graduates who are USM grads making a difference in their community.”

Jill and Bob Blackwood are giving back with a firm eye on the future of the University they both love. Through their enhanced bequest, they are leaving an invaluable legacy that will help greater numbers of USM students—and South Portland High School grads—for generations to come.

You can invest in our future—and our students’ future—with a gift in your estate plan. Contact Michelle Zichella at (207) 780-4347 or michelle.zichella@maine.edu to start the conversation.