The Tonkinson Family Gives Back
|Rick and Margarita Tonkinson with their son Steven
Although Rick (MBA '84, MPA '85) and Margarita (MPA '86) Tonkinson arrived in Miami in the early 1980s amid the socio-economic turbulence that followed the Mariel boatlift, they are delighted with the way that South Florida has blossomed since that time. Rick attributes the community's overall growth and success to the "creative and entrepreneurial spirit" embodied by the people of South Florida. Indeed, Rick and Margarita are a shining example of that same spirit. While attending the University of Miami School of Business Administration, they managed a demanding schedule of school, work and parenting. In the following years, they poured their energy into an array of pursuits, including a business that has made life better for hundreds of retirees. Now, decades later, the Tonkinsons are in a position to extend their support even further by providing vital resources to their alma mater to perpetuate what Rick describes as the University's "truly fantastic achievements."
"It's like a fireworks display—each new announcement [that the University makes is a celebration that builds on the last," he says. "In fact, there are so many worthy endeavors going on at UM that our biggest challenge is deciding which ones to support—and that's a great situation to be in." With a charitable inclination toward the betterment of the greater community, the Tonkinsons have elected to focus their giving in the areas of education and health.
Rick and Margarita remember their time at UM fondly, but they understand first-hand the financial challenges many students face. Their experience shaped their desire to assist students in the Masters of Public Administration program by making a donation to create the Rick and Margarita Tonkinson MPA Scholarship. This contribution was one of a trio of gifts that the Tonkinsons made to the University in 2007. Also benefitting from their generosity were two of the most renowned clinical units at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine—the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute and the Diabetes Research Institute. Their gift to Bascom Palmer focused on young people, providing prescription eyeglasses for needy children. As a patient there himself, Rick has long admired and supported the Institute. Equally impressed by the extraordinary work of the Diabetes Research Institute, where Rick also receives care, they also made a contribution to support its cutting-edge research efforts. "The staff is outstanding," says Rick, who now sits on the regional Board of Directors of the DRI Foundation, "They treat me wonderfully well."
In 2010, Rick and Margarita followed up these gifts with further investments in the University of Miami. Along with a new pledge to further the efforts of the DRI, the School of Business Administration will benefit from a commitment to provide funding for the Miguel B. Fernandez Entrepreneurship Building. In recognition of the Tonkinsons' generosity, this new facility will house a conference room named in Rick's honor. Their support of the University also includes gifts to the Frost School of Music, the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre and the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the Miller School of Medicine.
Most recently, the Tonkinsons have made provisions for the University of Miami in their estate plans with a million-dollar bequest to the President's Initiatives Fund. Rick affirms that his family's generosity is a vote of confidence in both the outstanding people recruited and the high quality programs developed under President Shalala's leadership.
"Over the years, UM has gained the perception of being a university much larger than it is," says Rick, "and it's holding its weight against much larger top-tier institutions. It's no longer just the Medical School or just the Law School; UM has become a more balanced and more respected educational institution—greater than the sum of its parts." Rick sees his family's philanthropic investment in the University as "grease for the wheels" already well in motion, allowing UM to continue on its path of success.
Margarita and Rick met in Margarita's native Colombia, where Rick was a Peace Corps volunteer. Margarita's international outlook was a big plus in her eight years as associate director of the University of Miami's Office of International Programs, where she became familiar with every aspect of academic exchange and study abroad programs. She has a passion for international education, believing that it "transforms people for the best, particularly young college students who are educating and forming themselves to become the citizens and professionals of tomorrow." Appointed by President George Bush, Margarita served for two consecutive terms on the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board (1990-1995).
Like Margarita, Rick takes a lively interest in education. He was appointed by Governor Robert Martinez to the Board of the Florida Endowment for Higher Education, a body that awards scholarships to African-American students pursuing PhD degrees. Says Rick: "Educational opportunities for the needy have always been important to me. I've always felt I've been there, and I'd like to help someone else."
Rick and Margarita reach out to others not only through their abundant community service and giving but also in the business they have built together. Their firm, Rick Tonkinson and Associates, addresses the needs of a neglected niche—working people of modest means who wish to plan their retirement years. Their client base is largely made up of Florida Power and Light and AT&T workers and their style is hands-on. Rick Tonkinson and Associates is very much a family affair, with Rick, Margarita, and son Steven working together. "It's a unique chemistry that we have. We share a common passion. It's a very special mix to balance family and business," says Rick. "I'm very lucky to have built the business and then have my son be interested in it."
The Tonkinsons' zest for life is expressed in their myriad interests. Passionate patrons of the arts, Margarita and Rick spend many evenings enjoying opera, ballet and the symphony. Rick is on the Board of Directors of the Cleveland Orchestra Miami Residency (Musical Arts Associated of Miami). In addition, they find time for fly fishing, whitewater rafting, skiing and travel around the world.
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