When Carlo and Mar Colombini moved to the property known as “Pinch ’em Slyly” in the Stony Point area of Albemarle County, the 1790s-era dwelling was in a poor state of repair.
“I said to Carlo, ‘You’ll never make me live in that house!’” said Mar, with a laugh. “Carlo said we’d just move out there temporarily. That was in 1970.” These days, the more than 200-acre property holds a lovingly restored home—much of it designed by Carlo—surrounded by lush gardens that Mar still maintains almost single-handedly.
That steadfastness also characterizes the couple’s giving to the University. The Colombinis have been
donors for more than 30 years, accumulating a record of giving that has had an impact on multiple areas of the University, made them catalysts for change across a broad spectrum of programs, and qualified them for membership in the University’s premier giving society, the Lawn Society.
Their relationship to the University itself extends back to more than 50 years, to their graduate school days. Carlo, a native of Italy who received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Bologna, came to the University in the late 1960s for a three-year post-doctoral fellowship in biomedical research in the Department of Pediatrics.
Mar was one of only a few women pursuing a master’s degree in organic chemistry in the late 1960s. “I was the Lone Ranger—not one man would work with me,” she said. During lab class, Mar routinely had to climb on top of a desk to reach the reflux condenser to perform her experiments.
Carlo, upstairs in another lab, had to come down to Mar’s lab to get ice. He saw Mar struggling to reach the condenser, and helped her. “That’s how we met,” said Carlo. “Then I found that I needed to come to the lab all the time for more ice. That’s why I like to say that our meeting was a chemical reaction. It was good chemistry.” Mar went on to become a chemistry teacher, first at St. Anne’s-Belfield School, then in the Albemarle County Public Schools, and Carlo became a chemical researcher in the pediatrics department at U.Va. Both have been retired for some time.
As a two-time cancer survivor, Mar supports cancer programs in the School of Medicine, although she and Carlo both support medical research in general. Mar is an enthusiastic supporter of The Fralin Museum of Art, and both are season ticket holders for U.Va. basketball—a sport that appeals to them whether the team is winning or losing.
In fact, one might say that their approach to basketball is similar to their faithful approach to giving to U.Va. “If something appeals to us, we’re loyal,” Mar said. “We don’t just give up and walk away.”