Railroad aficionado remembered, honored with Lee Medal

Lee Medal recipient Robert McKnight

Robert McKnight was honored with the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy.

The late Robert McKnight, honorary trustee and longtime member of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, will live on through his outstanding contributions to the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

In 1998 McKnight donated his railroad history collection to the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library, housed in the St. Louis Mercantile Library on UMSL’s North Campus. His collection helped grow the library into one of the largest railroad history collections in North America.  McKnight’s contribution consisted of more than 100 magazines, books, studies and reports from 1830 to 2009 on railroad signaling. Prior to compiling his signaling collection during retirement, McKnight served as an editor for several railroad magazines. He spent countless hours in railroad and government libraries.

“Bob told me nearly 25 years ago that we should think big and plan big at the library, and that he was going to get around to underscoring that goal with a few extra nickels, as he put it,” says John Hoover, director of the St. Louis Mercantile Library.

In addition to his donation, McKnight gave $2.79 million to endow the position of the John W. Barriger III National Railroad Library curator. The McKnight fund supports the costs associated with the curator as well as scholarly activity and expenses.

For his generosity, the university honored McKnight with the E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy at the annual Founders Dinner on Sept. 19. The celebration was held at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis in Clayton, Mo., and attracted more than 800 people. Hoover accepted the medal on McKnight’s behalf.

“It is an honor to receive and hold this award in memory of Robert McKnight,” says Hoover in his acceptance speech. “Bob understood from the outset that to fund the work of a curator helps pay the light bill; to endow positions and collections creates a future for a cultural institution; to give generously supports a thousand projects and above all our student scholars.”

The Lee Medal was created in 2006 to honor Des and Mary Ann Lee for their extraordinary philanthropic support and visionary leadership of the university over the years. The Lees were the first recipients of the medal. It is awarded annually to individuals whose generous support has touched the lives of UMSL students, the university and the greater St. Louis area in exceptional ways.


This story was originally published in the fall 2013 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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