History and Biography

Winston Fellowship Background

Robert Winston Scrivner founded the Winston Foundation for World Peace in 1983. He died a year later but not before appointing 10 trustees to guide the work of the foundation. Scrivner instructed them that, “The Winston Foundation for World Peace should be thought of as a place where the most promising individuals or fledgling groups would naturally turn for their first or very early support.” He encouraged support for controversial ventures and charismatic leaders. He favored activism over scholarship. An overarching objective for Scrivner was to reduce the likelihood of nuclear war through arms control.

The foundation closed in August 1999 after making grants of some $15 million to international security projects. The foundation’s assets were distributed to a variety of organizations, including Eastern Mennonite University, William and Mary College, Georgia Tech University, Brigham Young University, Washington and Lee University and Swarthmore College.

Susan Collin Marks, a Winston Foundation board member and internationally-recognized peacebuilder, recommended the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding and its Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) as one recipient of the foundation’s assets because of the center’s combination of academic training and practical peacebuilding.

The Winston Fellowship is awarded each year to an international or indigenous participant at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute. The Fellowship is intended for an organization that seeks training for someone new to the peacebuilding field. An application must come from the organization as well as the individual, and must include at least a six-week internship after the individual returns from SPI. The Fellowship covers the person’s entire participation for three sessions of training at SPI, including all visa fees, course and materials fees, lodging, a per diem for food and books, and transportation from the recipient’s home country to SPI and back.

Biography of Robert Winston Scrivner

Fulbright ScholarRobert W. Scrivner built his own cabin by hand but this brilliant, Harvard-trained lawyer is most remembered for building one of the most progressive charitable foundations in the United States — the Rockefeller Family Fund.

Born September 11, 1935 in Kansas City, Missouri, Scrivner grew up in a middle class family and attended public schools. His brother Noel recalls that, as a member of the high school debate team, Bob always chose to argue an issue on the affirmative side. This stemmed from his conviction that problems could be resolved through reasoned dialogue.

After high school, Scrivner received a scholarship to attend Harvard College where he majored in philosophy. He initially had set his sights on becoming an ordained minister but his father, an engineer for Bell Telephone, did not support the ministry as a career choice. To help pay for college, he worked during summers, building houses in Kansas and roads in Alaska.

After graduation, Scrivner spent a year on a Lionel de Jersey Fellowship as the Harvard Scholar at Cambridge University in England studying law. He returned to the United States and earned a degree from Harvard Law School in 1961.

The same year, Scrivner married Melinda Brown. Born in Montreal, Canada, Melinda was a graduate of Wellesley College. She worked as a teacher and became a life coach. The Scrivners would later have a daughter, Katherine.

After passing the bar exam, the Scrivners moved to Pittsburgh where he worked for a corporate law firm. With time, he grew dissatisfied with working on corporate mergers and looked for career alternatives. He qualified for the Foreign Service but realized that this, too, did not fit his social conscience, ambition, and drive to make a difference in the world.

In 1963, Scrivner accepted a position with the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, a foundation that continued the philanthropic legacy of John D. Rockefeller. Four years later, John D. Rockefeller’s grandchildren David, John, Laurance, Nelson, and Winthrop created another foundation, the Rockefeller Family Fund (RFF). Significantly, when Scrivner became executive director of this new foundation, he was the same age as most of his board members.

Under his leadership, the Rockefeller Family Fund expanded its charitable interests to consider more creative, risk-taking grants and to support social change agents. This included those who focused on the interrelationship of the environment and arms control — in particular the issue of “nuclear winter” —, as well as institutional responsibility, the women’s movement, and public-interest advocacy. Scrivner was a particularly strong supporter of Helen Caldicott who helped found Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and the Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND).

Scrivner saw the prevention of nuclear war as the single most urgent issue of the day. He was a prime catalyst in the formation of the arms control movement of the 1980s. He was one of the earliest supporters of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), a group that would later receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

He also encouraged the Rockefeller Family Fund to support class action lawsuits. The RFF was among the first foundations to assert that cigarette smoking caused the death of millions of Americans and that tobacco companies should be sued. Scrivner likewise recommended that the RFF support Vietnam veterans who suffered as a result of exposure to the toxic substance dioxin. In 1979, he urged support for the original class action suits involving the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam. The veterans went on to win their cases in court and eventually received $180 million, the largest amount won by a class of claimants for wrongful injury at that time.

Those who worked with Scrivner at the Rockefeller Family Fund described him as a visionary concerned about big issues in society. He advocated “telling truth to power”; he urged social and political leaders to acknowledge the consequences of their actions on all citizens and on the future of the planet.

He was a risk-taker for deserving causes. One of his colleagues observed that Scrivner believed in the “troublemaker school” of social and political change. As a lawyer, he knew that for almost every good cause, there likely were relevant laws on the books that were not being enforced. He believed in the use of the law to ensure that large institutions remained responsible and responsive to everyday citizens and communities.

In his work, Scrivner combined reasoned thought with intuition. He worked out of his soul, heart, and intellect. He was great at asking questions. If there was a difficult decision, he wanted the facts, but he also wanted to probe the heart of the issue. He was an exceptionally good listener.

As one of his colleagues put it, Scrivner combined the savvy of a police reporter and the background of a scholar as he worked in his own unthreatening way to stake out venturesome new ground. The Director of the Family Fund, Dr. Richard Chasin, later recalled how impressed he was with the courteous and dignified manner in which Scrivner related to all people: “With Bob you got equal respect, whether you were John D. Rockefeller III or the youngest person in the family.”

Scrivner was a catalyst who stimulated change, from the large scale down to the personal level. As Chasin remembers, Scrivner urged him to attend the Second World Congress of the International Physicians for Prevention of Nuclear War in Cambridge, England. Initially, Chasin was unclear as to the purpose: “‘Why should I go to this? Is it because I am a doctor?’ Bob replied: ‘No because it will change your life.’ I went. And it did change my life.” This was the role Scrivner played for many people — he was the driving force behind many life-changing commitments.

Before his death, he created the Winston Foundation for World Peace with his own money. The organization was to continue his work to educate the public and get support for the urgent problem of preventing nuclear war. The Winston Foundation wound down its operations in 1999.

The world lost a bright light when Bob Scrivner died on May 4, 1984, but his light continues to shine through the initiatives that he set in motion and that are continuing today.

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