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Man Donates a Million to College Founded by His Aunt

Entrepreneur Robert M. “Bob” Brownlee’s contribution will allow Seton Hill University to build a brand new mathematics center and establish a new scholarship.

photo courtesy seton hill university

A nephew of one of the founding sisters of Seton Hill University has donated more than $1 million to the school to continue his family’s legacy in the university.

Robert M. “Bob” Brownlee’s contribution will go toward building the Robert M. Brownlee Mathematics Enrichment Center and to create the Robert M. Brownlee Scholarship.

“Bob Brownlee has always been a wonderful friend to Seton Hill. Now, his incredible million-dollar-plus gift brings to the forefront, in a powerful way, the Brownlee legacy at the university,” Seton Hill President Mary C. Finger said in a statement.

Brownlee is the nephew of Sr. Francesca Brownlee, the school’s first dean who was instrumental in helping the college achieve its charter in 1918.

Brownlee, a Pittsburgh native and former U.S. Marine, came up with an idea for his own barricade manufacturing company in 1967 while was working an off-duty police detail at a construction site with the Miami Police Department.

Brownlee, also known as “Barricade Baron,” used a distinct marketing style to promote his product: placing his company’s name and phone number on all of their products. In the 1970s, Brownlee ended up selling the successful company to James Ryder, the former chairman of Ryder Systems. Brownlee went on to establish two additional barricade companies, including Bob’s Safety Lights and ABC (Another Barricade Company) Barricades.  

“My family’s more than 100-year-long history with Seton Hill and the Sisters of Charity is a source of great pride for me, and I am honored to offer a tribute to my aunt, Sr. Francesca Brownlee, and the Brownlee family through this gift,” Brownlee said. “My sincere hope is that this gift will provide the necessary support for academic initiatives and scholarships that will allow Seton Hill students to succeed as the university moves forward into the next 100 years of its history.”

Through the center that is to be built in Brownlee’s name, students will receive structured learning opportunities, supplemental instruction and peer tutoring.

As for the scholarship, students enrolled in entrepreneurship, business administration, management and similar majors will be given the opportunity to receive financial aid.

“Seton Hill’s enrollment growth and the addition of new academic programs in STEM fields have driven the need to provide focused academic support in mathematics at Seton Hill,” Seton Hill University Provost Sister Susan Yochum said. “We are delighted the Brownlee Scholarship will provide capable students with the resources they need to achieve an education of the highest quality.”

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