by Len Lear

Chestnut Hill resident Aileen Roberts is one of two people selected to receive the 91st annual Philadelphia Award by its board of trustees. The award, typically bestowed upon a single recipient, will be presented to both Ms. Roberts and Joseph Neubauer “for their leadership and outstanding service in bringing the new Barnes Foundation facility on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway to fruition throughout 2011.”

Chestnut Hill resident Aileen Roberts, who has a long history of community service and philanthropy, will receive the 91st annual Philadelphia Award this Thursday for her efforts in relocating the unique, priceless art collection of Albert Barnes from Lower Merion to the JFK Parkway in center city.

The award will be presented this Thursday, May 24, 5:30 p.m., at the new Barnes facility on JFK Parkway, which made its debut last Friday with a fundraiser attended by glitterati who paid at least $5,000 a head to be there.

The Philadelphia Award was founded in June of 1921 by editor, author and philanthropist Edward W. Bok, who stated that the “prize is conferred by the Philadelphia Award Trustees each year upon the man or woman living in Philadelphia, its suburbs or vicinity, who during the preceding year shall have performed or brought to culmination an act or contributed a service calculated to advance the best and largest interest of the community of which Philadelphia is the center.”

Throughout 2011, Neubauer, Chairman and CEO of Philadelphia-based ARAMARK, and philanthropist and community leader Aileen Roberts dedicated themselves to the relocation of the Barnes Foundation from Barnes’ Beaux-Arts mansion in Lower Merion to center city. According to a press release, Neubauer worked to ensure that the museum “will be professionally managed and financially secure, now and into the future.”

Roberts’ contributions lay primarily in the design and construction phase of the Barnes Parkway project. According to the same press release, “Aileen’s contributions run much deeper than simply being an active trustee of a successful nonprofit. The Barnes has become a personal passion for Aileen over the past seven years. Her unique leadership contribution has been to master the vision of Dr. Barnes and to imbue the entire design and construction team with a shared respect for the intention and will of Dr. Barnes.

“This contribution has been particularly critical as the construction process nears its conclusion and the Barnes transitions into the critical process of moving the collection from Lower Merion to Philadelphia, a project over which Aileen has overall responsibility on behalf of the Trustees.”

Planners of the new museum claim that annual visitation at the Barnes is projected to increase from the current 60,000 at Merion to 250,000 plus on the Parkway. They also point out that during the construction period, the new Barnes museum has created almost 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs with another 740 full-time jobs going forward on a permanent basis.

Regarding the bitter criticism by many in the arts community about the move of the Barnes collection (see accompanying article on this page), Aileen told the Local on Monday, “Now that the Barnes campus is open, I’ll leave it to others to judge. Our hope was that the museum is now finally accessible to the public, and we worked extremely hard to faithfully replicate Merion’s galleries. The goal was to design a unique and beautiful building that is worthy of our treasured Parkway. Yesterday was truly amazing for all of us at the Barnes. We had over 1500 visitors on our first day, and the reactions  about our new home and the  collection was beyond our dreams!

“I was vice clerk and board member at our children’s school, Penn Charter, for many years. I loved the Quaker approach to leadership — true consensus and not a lot of hierarchy. Education is at the heart of the Barnes mission, and Penn Charter was a wonderful experience and an important influence. I was also a decade long board, executive and building committee member of Childrens Hospital. The team at CHOP are all heroes!”

A graduate of the Design School of North Carolina State University, Aileen began her career working for several architectural firms. Before starting a family, she was a banker with PNB, now Wells Fargo, in the investment management and trust divisions. Aileen’s husband, Brian, 52 (the couple has three “nearly grown” children), a graduate of Germantown Academy and the University of Pennsylvania, is Chairman and CEO of Comcast Corporation, the Cable TV/entertainment giant that has 24.1 million customers and 100,000 employees. According to Bloomberg News, Comcast is the 32nd largest company in the U.S., with a net worth of $76.1 billion. (Brian’s father, Ralph, started Comcast by buying a small cable system in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1963.)

Regarding her feelings about Chestnut Hill, Aileen remarked, “We have lived happily in the Chestnut Hill area for more than 20 years. The village atmosphere in Chestnut Hill is special and unique — many wonderful friends and neighbors, shopping and dining on the Avenue, walking in Valley Green and working in my garden.”