Robert Chartener. Courtesy photo

Concordian receives Order of the British Empire for philanthropy

April 16, 2024

By Andrew Stojkovich — Correspondent 

Ahead of the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution, history appears to have made amends with itself: a Concord resident has been honored by Britain for his charitable work in both the United Kingdom and the United States. 

In Concord, people know Robert Chartener as a former member of the vestry for Trinity Episcopal Church or as a land steward for the Concord Land Conservation Trust.  

In the U.K., however, he’s best known as the first American Fellow-Commoner of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and the chair of The Magdalene College Foundation, a U.S. non-profit. 

For his work in educational philanthropy, Chartener has been awarded the “Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire,” or OBE for short. 

Instituted in 1917 by King George V, the various “Order of the British Empire” awards were created to acknowledge and reward the service of people who served in non-combat roles during World War I. 

Since then, the awards have shifted to include those who have served in charitable roles or contributed to the arts, sciences, and public service. Around 2,200 awards are given per year, 400 to 500 of which are OBE appointments. 

Chartener is among the fewer than 50 Americans with this honor. 

“I’m happy for him,” says his wife, Kate Chartener. “He never expected or sought anything like this.”  

Centering education  

Much of Chartener’s philanthropy has been channeled into education. He has long been a trustee at the Cardigan Mountain School in New Hampshire and vice president of the board of trustees of The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, both of which he attended.  

He also holds degrees from Princeton, Cambridge, and Harvard, and is a member of the Parents Leadership Council at Haverford College. (The Charteners have a daughter at Haverford, and it’s also the alma mater of Chartener’s late father and stepfather, his wife said.)  

Robert Chartener. Courtesy photo

Chartener’s experiences as a student have significantly influenced his philanthropic work for Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge. 

“I was very lucky. I had a great education as a young person… and I’ve always felt strongly that other people should have those opportunities. And so, I’ve been very devoted to trying to make sure that people can afford to go to excellent institutions,” says the chair of Human Touch LLC, a maker of wellness products.  

Because British schools lack American institutions’ fundraising machines, Chartener has worked with Magdalene College to help the school through fundraisers, annual dinners, and other projects.  

For instance, The Magdalene College Foundation helped raise over £5 million for The New Library at Magdalene College, which was crowned the RIBA Stirling Prize winner in 2022.  

The foundation also works with students to help with costs they can’t afford, whether it be money for tuition, travel, or just getting pizza with friends. 

“We supply that extra money. And that’s important. We have supported dozens of students over the last 15 years,” says Chartener.  

Concord as confluence  

As for a Concord local receiving the OBE, “It’s definitely humorous,” says Kate Chartener. “But he also loves Concord and is very proud of it.”  

Robert Chartener, OBE, however, sees little historical contradiction in a Concord resident being bestowed with British honors. In fact, he sees Concord as more of a confluence of two cultures than a rejection of one. 

“If you go to the North Bridge site, there’s a monument to the English mothers who lost sons in the American Revolution,” says Chartener. 

“It’s just a wonderful community, and people do a lot for the town,” he says. “New England just feels like home. I love my home.”  

Chartener will receive his OBE decoration and an appointment document from King Charles later this spring during a ceremony at the British Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C.