Patti Herbert, University alumna and benefactor, passes away

July 29, 2020

By Robert Jones

A longtime philanthropist—who met her lifelong partner, Allan Herbert, at the University in 1954—Patti Herbert gave generously to numerous causes that advanced academics and student life.

It would always start with “I’ve got an idea.” That’s what Patti Herbert would say whenever she wanted to execute one of her ambitious plans.

Nearly 20 years ago, it was a project to honor her lifelong partner, Allan Herbert. One day, she walked into the office of Norm Parsons on the University of Miami Coral Gables Campus, telling the then-director of wellness and recreation that she wanted to do something special to mark their 42nd wedding anniversary. 

She proposed a naming gift for the bridge in front of the school’s student Wellness Center. Patti Herbert suggested that personalized bricks could be purchased by alumni who wanted to acknowledge a loved one or to express their fondness for the University, with the proceeds benefiting a fitness assessment program for students. 

Parsons recommended a price of $100 a brick. But Patti Herbert, who met the love of her life on the University’s Coral Gables Campus more than 60 years ago, said it needed to be higher, “to make it more meaningful,” Parsons recalled her saying. “And that’s the kind of person Patti was—always thinking of others and challenging people to think bigger and better.” 

Patti Herbert, a longtime University of Miami alumna and benefactor who, along with her husband Allan, donated millions of dollars to the institution, helping to transform academics and student life, passed away on Monday, July 27. She was 84.

“Patti Herbert was an inspiration not just to her beloved husband, but to every member of the University of Miami community,” said President Julio Frenk. “We will miss her dearly, but find comfort in her legacy, which will be carried forward with the same passion that she displayed for her alma mater for the last 60 years.” 

Her largesse to the University reached new heights last year when she and her husband made a landmark gift to the business school, pushing their philanthropy to the institution to astounding heights—more than $100 million in lifetime giving. 

In honor of the couple, the business school, where they both earned degrees, was renamed the University of Miami Patti and Allan Herbert Business School, or Miami Herbert Business School for short. 

John Quelch, dean of the Miami Herbert Business School, described Patti Herbert as “a wonderfully generous and perceptive businesswoman whose lifetime commitment to family, friends, and all things U is an example to us all. We are honored to have her name and Allan’s attached in perpetuity to our school, a legacy that gives us pride and motivation.” 

In 2008, Patti and Allan Herbert donated $8 million to name the Patti and Allan Herbert Wellness Center on the Coral Gables Campus. 

In addition, the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center—part of the Miller School of Medicine—the Frost School of Music, the School of Nursing and Health Studies, the School of Law, the School of Education and Human Development, the Institute for Advanced Study of the Americas, the Department of Athletics, the Lowe Art Museum, Student Affairs, and Alumni Relations have also benefited from their generosity. 

“Since the time she was a student at the U, Patti has had an unwavering commitment to enhancing our University’s academic excellence,” said Hilarie Bass, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees. “Her warmth, concern for, and love of our institution will likely be unmet by any other alum. Her loss will be deeply felt by all of us.” 

Josh Friedman, senior vice president for development and alumni engagement, remembers Patti Herbert as “a true visionary who saw the future the way it could be and brought others to that place. She made the University a better institution.” 

“A champion for students, for music, and athletics” is how Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for student affairs, remembers Patti Herbert. “She was particularly proud and fond of the Love Bridge at Herbert Wellness Center. She was a remarkable fundraiser and will always be remembered.” 

Born Patti McBride in Plainfield, New Jersey, she grew up in Miami Shores and became a Girl Scout, selling more Girl Scout cookies than any of the other members of her troop.

She and Allan Herbert crossed paths on the Coral Gables Campus in 1954, when Allan spotted her typing in the University’s student union while applying for a job with the Miami Hurricane student newspaper. “For me, it was literally love at first sight,” recalled Allan Herbert. 

But it would take a 3,000-mile trip to officially kick-start their relationship. While on vacation with his parents at California’s Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, Allan Herbert ran into, of all people, Patti McBride, who was also vacationing in the Golden State with her parents. 

“That really started the romance,” said Allan Herbert. “I figured if it was that fortuitous that we could meet 3,000 miles away in a western town, then there was something special about it and we had to make the most of it. It was meant to be. It was the beginning of a love story that would last forever.” 

So, he invited her on a date, picking her up in the 1956 Oldsmobile his parents had recently purchased, and they visited a new theme park called Disneyland. 

It was Allan Herbert’s persistence that won Patti McBride over. “He wore me down,” Patti Herbert once said. “He was always there.” 

At the University of Miami, Patti McBride was very active; and among other things, she became a member of Iota Alpha Pi, the first national sorority for Jewish women. 

Allan and Patti eventually earned degrees from the business school—Allan, a Bachelor of Business Administration in 1955 and an M.B.A. three years later; and Patti, a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in finance and marketing in 1957. They were both inducted into the Iron Arrow Society, the highest honor attainable at the University.

The couple married in 1958. Patti told Allan that she didn’t want a big wedding. “Everybody has a big wedding, and then they get divorced,” Allan Herbert recalled her saying. “She said we should use the money to go on a honeymoon to Europe.” 

So, they did, flying for 13 hours over the Atlantic to Brussels to attend the 1958 World’s Fair. From there, they took a helicopter ride to Paris, flying above the rooftops and landing at the Eiffel Tower. “There we were, a 21-year-old and 22-year-old seeing Europe for the first time—on our own,” Allan Herbert noted. 

The two went onto successful careers, Allan as a group executive and insurance company president at Teledyne, and Patti at the Grubb and Ellis commercial real estate firm. 

“She went from being a housewife to becoming the No. 1 salesperson at Grubb and Ellis, beating out all the younger salespeople,” Allan Herbert said. “But she always shared her success. She didn’t hesitate to teach them how to close a sale and write up a sales contract, and she never hesitated in sharing her commissions with her associates.” 

Patti, said Allan Herbert, learned everything about philanthropy from her mother, who, during World War II, helped raise money for the war effort and volunteered at the Biltmore Hotel—which back then was a U.S. Army hospital. “Patti followed in her mother’s footsteps. She always had a sense and feeling of giving,” Allan Herbert said. 

“But what was most unique about Patti was that she would come to me and say, ‘I’ve got an idea.’ And as a result of that, we ended up being involved in so many endeavors and organizations from Los Angeles, where we lived for 50 years, to Miami,” Allan Herbert said. 

Patti Herbert raised funds for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens in Coral Gables, coming up with the idea of a matching gift program that inspired others to give and helped the 83-acre botanic garden acquire new trams. 

When the couple was living in Southern California in the late 1960s, Patti Herbert read a Los Angeles Times story about the challenges paleontologists faced as they excavated the La Brea Tar Pits. So, she started a program to raise money that helped them obtain dental picks to clean fossils. And as a result of that work, she eventually became a member of the board of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, serving in that capacity for 30 years. 

“She was an amazing woman with fantastic ideas, someone who knew how to motivate people,” said her husband of 62 years.. “I often felt I should be called Mr. Patti McBride.” 

Patti Herbert is survived by her husband Allan Herbert, sons Steven and Kevin Herbert, and granddaughters Daphne Herbert and Begonia Herbert-Ramirez.

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