Bernheim at 90: Robert Paul: Preserving the Dream

By volunteer

In Bernheim’s 90 year history there have been many people whose giant contributions have made this arboretum and research forest possible.  Without doubt, Isaac W. Bernheim was foremost in that group but he was far from alone.  Most of the other names are not familiar to Bernheim visitors but their vision and efforts have been key in making this forest sanctuary available to us all.  It is appropriate that we look back at some of those giant contributions.  This is a second in a series of posts that hopes to highlight those efforts. Click here to read part 1 and part 3.

Robert Paul

Robert Paul (far left) standing next to Isaac W. Bernheim at the Fire Tower in 1930 as identified by the hand written information found on the back of photograph.

Robert Paul stands alone as the single individual who did the most to ensure that the vision of a Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest came to fruition. Without his faithful and expert leadership, it is unlikely that there would have ever been a 90th Anniversary to celebrate or a forest of any sort worth a visit.

Mr. Paul was born in 1893 in Wemyss, Scotland and was raised and educated in Liverpool, England. A member of the British Army during World War I, he was initially restricted to duty in the homeland due to his Scottish citizenship but was soon in the heart of the action and served with distinction throughout the war. Soon after his discharge, he emigrated to the U.S. and became a proud and loyal American for the remainder of his long life. After six years of doing a variety of jobs in and around New York City, he answered a classified ad in 1926 placed by Isaac Bernheim  for a traveling companion.  That began a relationship with Isaac, and later, the I.W. Bernheim foundation (which operates Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest), that lasted for over 55 years and ended only with Mr. Paul’s death on December 30, 1981.
The job of traveling companion very quickly turned into one as Mr Bernheim’s secretary.  Perhaps more accurately, he served as his chief of staff.  He managed traveling and lodging arrangements, made and answered all phone calls (Mr. Bernheim intensely disliked using the telephone), prepared all correspondence, and was often the chief point of contact with the extended Bernheim family.  When the I.W. Bernheim Foundation was formed in 1929, he remained Isaac’s personal assistant as he traveled between residences in Louisville; Daytona Beach, Florida; Denver, Colorado; Santa Monica, California and elsewhere.  He corresponded with the I.W. Bernheim Foundation and the Bernheim Trust, which manages the assets of the Bernheim estate.  He also coordinated Mr. Bernheim’s charitable giving, including to refugee families from war-ravaged Europe.
Upon Isaac Bernheim’s death in 1945, Robert Paul assumed the role of Executive Secretary/Director of the I.W. Bernheim Foundation in accordance with a plan that thad been formulated in 1930 and defined in writing in 1932.  He moved from Mr, Bernheim’s final residence in Santa Monica to Louisville and became the guiding force in accomplishing the work needed to transform Isaac’s dreams into reality.  He expertly coordinated the efforts of the Foundation, the Trust, and the work force at the forest.  He was known for his ability to effectively communicate with people ranging from politicians and titans of industry and finance to the laborers doing the difficult work of fulfilling the dream. One of his earliest and greatest achievements was decisively defeating a lawsuit brought by some of the Bernheim descendants.  That lawsuit, if successful, would have decimated the Trust and put an end to the possibility of fulfilling Isaac’s dream. He retained the position of Executive Director for the remainder of his life and was uniformly respected for his knowledge, determination, and fidelity to the wishes of Isaac Bernheim. Even when advanced age and medical conditions limited his activity, his wise counsel was always sought.  In the forest, his contributions have been memorialized by the construction of Paul’s Point Loop at the end of Forest Hill Drive and by a plaque at the Garden Pavilion.  Robert Paul, a true Giant of Bernheim.
Ken Johnson, Volunteer Naturalist

In 2019, Bernheim celebrates 90 years of connecting people with nature. At over 25 square miles, Bernheim is the largest privately held forest dedicated to conservation and education in the region. Our arboretum is home to plant collections of over 8,000 varieties, public art, and educational programming for thousands of students.  Our pristine forest hosts hikers and outdoor adventures alongside research and conservation projects which will serve to protect the environment for future generations.

As a 100% member and donor supported organization, we could not fulfill this important mission without you. We hope you’ll continue to support our efforts throughout the next 90 years.  Join or donate by clicking here.

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