- First Lieutenant
Robert J. Higgins was born on 9 October 1945 in Providence, Rhode Island. During his childhood years, he resided primarily in the Washington Park area. He graduated from Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island where he was a member of the Cross Country Team. He entered the University of Rhode Island in 1963 and became a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. Bob was elected the President of his senior class. He was enrolled in Army ROTC for four years; and during his senior year, he was tasked with driving Martin Luther King, Jr. from the Westerly Airport to Keaney Gym. His wife recalls the event as his favorite memory of his time at URI. Bob graduated in 1967 with a degree in Economics and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant of Quartermaster Corps.
LT Higgins’ first assignment was at Fort Lee, Virginia to attend the Quartermaster Officer Basic Course. Following his initial schooling, he was assigned to Fort Riley, Kansas. After a very short troop assignment, 1LT Higgins deployed to the Republic of Vietnam in 1968. Following his tour of duty in Vietnam, Bob returned to the United States and was honorably retired from active duty in November 1969. His military decorations include: National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Two Overseas Bars, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal w/60 device.
Shortly thereafter, he was offered and accepted an entry level financial management position with Chase Manhattan Bank in New York City. This would be the start of a 30-year distinguished career in the banking industry. He joined Fleet Bank in 1971 and was named president of Fleet International in New York in 1978. In 1981, he was appointed senior vice president and head of the international banking division; and in 1984, he became a vice president of the corporation with responsibility for the international and money management divisions.
In 1986, Higgins was named president of Fleet Bank of Rhode Island; and three years later was named executive vice president of Fleet Financial Group. In 1990, he was elected chairman and chief executive officer of Fleet Bank in Connecticut. In 1993, he was appointed vice chairman of Fleet Financial Group with responsibility for all commercial banking activities. In 1997, he was named President and Chief Operating Officer, and Bob retired in that position at FleetBoston Financial in 2001.
Robert married Mary Danielian on 15 August 1970 in Warwick, Rhode Island. Mary is also a 1967 graduate of the University of Rhode Island. Bob Higgins was a strong civic leader and was a trustee of the University of Rhode Island Foundation, the Providence Foundation, and the National Conference. Additionally, he served on the boards of the Trinity Square Repertory Co. and Rhode Island Hospital. A strong supporter of higher education, Bob Higgins was instrumental in leading efforts to raise funds for student scholarships and other URI needs.
In 2000, Robert Higgins received an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Rhode Island. Robert died on 31 December 2016. He is survived by his wife Mary and his two daughters Meg and Lauren and four grandchildren. In honor of her late husband Robert, Mary Danielian Higgins presented a $2 million dollar gift to URI to support the construction of a new Visitor’s Center. The Robert J. Higgins Welcome Center opened in September 2017. Mary lovingly reflects:
“The University always remained such an important part of Bob’s life…It is fitting to have his name provide a first impression for so many University’s guests and visitors.”
This facility has quickly become one of the centerpieces on campus for the more than 50,000 visitors to the Kingston Campus each year.
First Lieutenant Robert J. Higgins’ outstanding leadership and innovation as well as his devotion to the military, his businesses and communities reflect great credit upon himself, his family, our country and the University of Rhode Island.