Remembering Roby Harrington III

Roby and Whit Harrington, riding up Mount Washington on the Cog Train.

Back in July 1940, a maverick candidate for President, Wendell Willkie, received a remarkable letter from a 13-year old boy in Westport, Connecticut. Enclosing a dollar campaign contribution, and writing on his own stationery, the boy explained he’d cut lawns to earn the money.

“I hope my dollar does some good. My whole family is pulling for you to win.” The young signer added some wholehearted encouragement in the p.s.: “We know you’re going to win.” 

Wholehearted was the approach Roby Harrington III took toward every undertaking in his long life, which ended May 31, 2024, just after his 95th birthday.

Roby served as a Marine officer in the Pacific, seeing combat in the Korean War. He made his name in advertising, first at Procter & Gamble, then on Madison Avenue, where he rose to the post of chairman of Young and Rubicam, U.S. Group. Roby was an unusual “Mad Man.” A trade magazine described Roby as “the one person on Madison Avenue who helps people, expecting nothing in return.”

Roby was an institution builder, helping to place his boyhood school, St. Luke’s, on solid financial footing, and supporting fellow Princetonian Wendy Kopp in the expansion of what is today one of the nation’s most admired programs, Teach for America.

Roby played a key role in building our own institution, leading the Coolidge Foundation Board’s drive to elevate President Coolidge’s name nationally. Roby served on juries for the Coolidge Scholarship from the scholarship’s inception. He spent many summer days at the Coolidge Homestead in Plymouth with Coolidge scholars and senators, addressing groups and counseling individuals. He took joy in keeping up with both the achievements and challenges of all Coolidge students. With Roby, the topic was often books: “What have you read?” he would ask. Or: “What should I read now?” 

Roby was predeceased by his wife of 66 years, Carol Whitney Harrington, known to all as Whit. The Coolidge Board extends condolences to the Harringtons’ four children, Roby IV, Scott, Todd, and Sue, as well as to Roby’s many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

To honor Roby and his appreciation of books, the Foundation announces the establishment of the Roby Harrington III Fund to purchase books for our Coolidge Book Club, which serves the nearly 1,000 students now in our Foundation programs. 

Click HERE to support the Roby Fund.


We invite friends who would like to share a memory of Roby to email their remembrance to William Pettinger ( for inclusion below.

Rest in peace, dear Roby.
He was a renaissance man, and interacting with him in Vermont was such a joy.
What a delight he was, and his spirit was infectious. I loved watching him speak to the students. (All the while I was learning, too!) 
What wisdom and common sense coupled with passion. 
Thank you for your gift to Coolidge, Roby!
It was an honor to meet you.
Elizabeth Jane Hemenway Sullivan

Coolidge meant a lot to Roby and Roby meant a lot to us. We’ll miss his wise counsel, but most of all his friendship.Governor Jim Douglas

Roby was truly a prince from Princeton. He cornered me many years ago when I was playing in a US Seniors tournament at Ekwanok in Manchester, VT and told me I had to join the Coolidge Foundation board. He had already been laboring for years on behalf of the Coolidge Foundation. I eventually did join, and at my first meeting Roby was there dispensing his wisdom. He was one of a kind and will be missed greatly.” –Dave Coolidge

Getting to know Roby was one of the great benefits of being involved with the Coolidge Foundation. We will all miss him.” –Garland Tucker

Working with and seeing Roby was always delightful. Roby was well-read and always had a book to recommend. He will be greatly missed. His was a life well lived. Roby so missed his wife. May he rest in peace.” –Rick Hough

Roby was an absolute delight to work with. I so enjoyed his company. We’ll miss him.” –Kurt Schmoke

“Roby was a pillar of excellence and dedication and he served on the Coolidge Foundation Board for so many years. Roby will be missed. May he rest in peace.” –Jennifer Coolidge Harville

Roby embodied the virtues and strength of character that one hopes will be instilled in our Coolidge Scholars. If we needed an archetypal trustee to serve as an example, Roby would be it.” –Michael Aronstein

Roby was among the first to welcome me to the Coolidge Foundation. His kindness, humility, and passion for learning were a constant source of inspiration. He will be deeply missed.” –Sam Reddick (Coolidge Scholar)

Roby Harrington was a gentleman and a gentle man. It was an honor working with him during my time at the Coolidge Foundation. His was a life well-lived. I am happy to know he is reunited with his beloved Whit. Rest in God’s Peace, Dear Roby!” –Rushad Thomas

As a fellow Princetonian, Roby was a great mentor for me and convinced me before I enrolled that I would have a great time at Princeton. I will always remember him for his kindness, wit, and infinite wisdom. I am blessed to have known and learned from him” –Julianna Lee (Coolidge Scholar)