At most funerals, you can pick out a few people who show up out of obligation, not affection. Not so at Wednesday’s service for philanthropist Joe Robert.
“There was nobody in that room who didn’t like Joe,” BET founder Bob Johnson told us.
Robert, who died last week at age 59 after a three-year battle with brain cancer, was a multimillionaire businessman with a flair for making and raising money — his annual “Fight Night” racked up millions for local children’s charities. But most of all, he was a genius at making friends — then hitting them up in his ongoing quest to save the world.
The Cathedral of St. Matthew was packed with men and women who fell into Robert’s web: His funeral mass was conducted by not one but two cardinals (Donald Wuerl and Theodore McCarrick) and attended by a diverse list of political, business, military and Hollywood A-listers: Tony Williams, Adrian Fenty, Jim Jones, Peter Pace, Colin Powell, Antonin Scalia, Mitch Rales, Steve Case, Jim Kimsey, Luis Moreno, Michael Saylor, Russ Ramsey, Chris Matthews, Roger and Vicki Sant, Fred Malek, Laura Ingraham, Quincy Jones, Chris Tucker and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.
“Dad loved everyone: Friends, family, the world, even people he didn’t know — but most of all children,” said his younger son Luke during his eulogy with his older brother Joe III.
Robert took those friends, including most of Washington’s new high-tech millionaires and billionaires, and turned once-staid D.C. philanthropy into a lively, sometimes raucous adventure. “We were cheerleaders for each other,” said Kimsey, one of his best friends and a speaker at the service. In two decades, Robert raised more than $750 million for local charities.
His death was not sudden; by his own calculation, Robert lived a couple years longer than he or his doctors expected. So mourners flooded out of the cathedral, sad but not stricken, hugging his family and each other. About 400 people headed to Cafe Milano, where owner Franco Nuschese closed the Georgetown restaurant — the site of so many of Robert’s celebrations — and threw one last party for his old friend.
“We knew it was coming, but it sucks that it’s finally here,” said Raul Fernandez. “The best thing we can do is carry on his work.”