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Spread your wings and fly

The late Bernie Robert viewed butterflies as symbolic of people’s growth

September 8, 2021

This article was originally written for the Fall 2021 Mount Magazine.

Bernadette (Bernie) Gonzaque Robert ’77, who passed away in May after a long illness, has been described as “the epitome of our heart and soul,” “the Mount’s angel in heaven,” and “a moral compass.” In 2018, the Mount bestowed her with the Carondelet Medal, the University’s highest honor, for her many personal and professional achievements.

In roles ranging from Mount Saint Mary’s student, alumna, staff member in Admissions and College Relations, Title XI coordinator and associate vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Bernie touched the lives of many. But no role was more important to her than that of friend and mentor.

Mount President Ann McElaney-Johnson acknowledges that “Bernie had a gift of being fully present with everyone she met, and she managed to do this for her oldest as well as her newest friends and colleagues. Bernie gifted us all with her presence. When I think of Bernie, I think of love — abundant, generous, open and grace-filled love.”  

Bernadette (Bernie) Robert '77, who served in many roles at the Mount, is fondly remembered by a few of the many people whose lives she touched.
Bernadette (Bernie) Robert '77, who served in many roles at the Mount, is fondly remembered by a few of the many people whose lives she touched.

Charlotte White describes how she attended a college fair with her daughter, Ann-Marie (White) Medeiros ’92 in their hometown in Hawaii, when they first met Bernie. They had never heard of Mount Saint Mary’s but were enchanted by Bernie’s charisma. The rest, as they say, is history. Bernie befriended not only Ann and her parents but her younger brother, who enrolled at Loyola Marymount after Ann graduated from the Mount. Bernie even offered up her home for storage when he had to pack up his dorm room belongings for the summer.

“In Hawaii, we pride ourselves on the aloha spirit, and that’s exactly what Bernie had,” says White. “Just a love for everyone, welcoming them and everyone becoming part of her ohana (family).”

Pam Gist, PhD, professor and chair of the psychology department, echoes other characteristics that come up in every conversation with people who knew Bernie. “She always managed to see the good in people,” she explains. ”Bernie expected us to keep reaching for more but forgave us each time we fell short. Bernie always put everybody else first. She always asked about us, no matter what she was going through.”


“If anyone was the eyes, the ears, the hands, the feet of God, it was Bernie. Fun fact: One of her favorite songs was ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’”

Gaile Krause ‘13 MA, assistant director, campus ministry


Bernie loved butterflies, especially monarchs. “They reminded her of the process and metamorphosis that we as women learn from and experience as we grow,” says Sonali (Perera) Bridges ’98, who was mentored by Bernie from the time she entered the Mount and became part of her extended family. Bernie officiated Bridges’ wedding and was “Nana” to her two daughters.

“There are times when we learn to crawl, times to reflect in our cocoons, times we must adapt, spread our wings and ultimately take off and rise,” Bridges explains. She reports that a white butterfly persistently circled her while she was in the garden of her parents’ home in Ohio and kept appearing during her stay there; her parents insist they had previously never seen a butterfly in their yard.

Bridges is not alone in her experience. “Since Bernie died, I have had a monarch flying around my house,” says Gist. ”Friends of mine are reporting the same thing. I think she’s saying hello.”

White agrees. She was also visited by a monarch while tending to the herb garden in her front yard. “I said, ‘Bernie, you’re here! What do you think of my garden?’”

Bernie’s legacy at the Mount is indelible. Now a Mount Center bears her name: The Bernadette Gonzaque Robert Center for Equity, Diversity and Justice.

An interim co-director of the newly renamed Center, Kimberly Nao, says that the best way we can honor Bernie is to follow the model that she set, not just in terms of the work that she did but the kind of human being that she was. “I think of it as fulfilling the vision that she had of who we are as individuals,” Nao explains. “I want to fulfill the vision that she had for me as an individual, as well as the vision that she had for the Mount.”

Says Gist, “I’m trying to be more Bernie-like every day. It’s hard, but I’m trying.”

 

 

NOTE: If you would like to make a donation to the Bernadette Gonzaque Robert Center for Equity, Diversity and Justice in Bernie’s honor, please go to givecampus.com/kpv6at.