Queen Elizabeth honors Pittsburgh native for service to sovereign
As Robin Kramer graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1972, she never thought life would one day bring her to Buckingham Palace to receive an honor directly from Queen Elizabeth II.
After all, the 18-year-old Jewish girl from Squirrel Hill wasn’t even a British subject.
But fate works in unexpected ways.
Almost 40 years later, Kramer, now Robin Kramer Boles, a long-time resident of the United Kingdom, will soon travel to Buckingham Palace to receive the thanks of the long-reigning monarch and a new title: Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order.
The date of the investiture ceremony has not yet been announced, but the announcement of the honor was formally released June 11 — the queen’s birthday.
Now, “I will have letters after my name, so it will be Robin Boles LVO,” Boles said. “That’s a mid-ranking order; once you get into the swing of things you tend to get promoted. Next is commander, and then dame.”
The reason for her honor: Boles is CEO of In Kind Direct, a charity founded by the Prince of Wales that distributes manufactured surplus goods to charities, which, in turn, get them to people in need.
Some of those charities that receive In Kind Direct support are Jewish, including World Jewish Relief — a leading overseas relief group run by the British Jewish community.
“We recently passed the milestone of having distributed 110 million pounds ($180 million) worth of newly manufactured goods to nearly 9,000 charities,” Boles told the Chronicle.
While the queen — a constitutional monarch — is directed to bestow some honors by the British prime minister, others, such as the one Boles now bears, she may give out at her own discretion.
“This is purely a gift of the sovereign for service to the sovereign or to her family,” Boles said.
The honor makes for a notable bookend for Boles’ family. Her father, Elliott Kramer, became one of the 2011 Eight over 80 honorees during a dinner gala at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, Thursday, June 2. Boles returned to Pittsburgh to help him celebrate.
“We’re exceptionally proud of her,” Kramer said. “She’s done just remarkable things since she graduated and went to England.”
Boles, who has lived in the United Kingdom for 29 years, has spent the last 15 as head of In Kind Direct — one of the 20 charities and seven social enterprises of the Prince of Wales.
Though she built up In Kind Direct, she quickly noted the prince was the vision behind the effort.
“I started it, yes, but it was the prince’s idea,” she said. “I saw an ad in the newspaper and it interested me to start this up. I got the job, told to do it, but it was his idea; he had actually seen it in the United States and when he came back they advertised for someone to do it.”
Getting the job, though, was no simple matter.
Boles first interviewed with a headhunting agency authorized by the palace to do the search. Then she met a four-member panel, including the CEO of a large British bank and others in the prince’s circle.
“They had to see if I was OK,” she said.
Finally, she met the prince to receive his final approval.
“He’s very passionate about everything he believes in,” Boles said, “and because he’s not elected he doesn’t have to answer to anybody; he can do what he thinks is right without answering to any interest group.
“He hates waste, which is where the idea comes up to start In Kind Direct,” Boles said.
“There isn’t anyone who cares more about people and the world. Wherever he goes and sees need, he wants to help.”
A graduate of the University of Michigan who later earned a law/MBA degree from Indiana University, Boles — an attorney — went on to specialize in taxation of Americans abroad. She went on a business trip to Scotland in 1982 for her employer, the accounting firm of Arthur Young. That’s when she met her future husband Dr. Michael Boles, a chiropractor.
“When we got married, I agreed to go for four years,” she recalled. “He doesn’t remember that conversation, so here we are 29 years later.”
But she returns to Pittsburgh a couple times a year.
“My home is still in Squirrel Hill,” she said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)