The Givers

The Givers

Co-owner of Total Wine and his wife are Montgomery County's Philanthropists of the Year

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Photo by Michael Ventura

After her daughter, Sophia, started taking classes at The Washington School of Ballet, Anna Parisi-Trone joined the board of The Washington Ballet. In that role, Parisi-Trone and other board members met last fall with instructors from the school’s campus in Southeast Washington, D.C., and learned that many low-income students were dropping out of ballet, despite having received scholarships. It wasn’t a question of talent or enthusiasm—it was because parents couldn’t afford to keep their fast-growing daughters in ballet toe shoes.

During the meeting, Parisi-Trone listened quietly as the board members talked about how they might raise some emergency funds to pay for the shoes. Afterward, she pulled one of the teachers aside and offered to pay anonymously for the students’ ballet slippers for the following year. “Even the other board members didn’t know she’d done it,” says board Chair Sylvia de Leon. “I found out because as the chair I had to know.” 

Parisi-Trone and her husband, Robert Trone, were already substantial benefactors of The Washington School of Ballet—this year, they are funding the construction of a new studio that will be completed in November at the main campus on Wisconsin Avenue. Nevertheless, after they heard that some low-income students couldn’t afford the $200 spring performance fee, they covered those, too—also anonymously.  

It’s that kind of quiet but open-hearted generosity that led The Community Foundation in Montgomery County to name Parisi-Trone and her husband Philanthropists of the Year for 2015. “Once the Trones get involved, they make an investment and they make a difference,” says Marie Taylor, who was executive director of the Community Foundation until September.

The Trones’ charitable strategy is straightforward: They give to organizations they know well and believe in. And once they commit, they are loyal. In addition to supporting The Washington Ballet and The Washington School of Ballet, where 13-year-old Sophia continues to study dance, they also contribute to Bethesda’s Imagination Stage, where their daughter took classes when she was in elementary school. The Trones also support organizations that reflect their Catholic faith, including Catholic Charities, the Archdiocese of Washington, Mercy Health Clinic in Gaithersburg, which was founded by members of Our Lady of Mercy Church in Potomac (the Trones’ parish), and the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, where Sophia is in eighth grade.

Getting to know a few organizations in depth enables the Trones to contribute significantly and encourage others to do likewise. “They are great community members—humble, gracious and warm, and they invite others in,” says Stone Ridge Head of School Catherine Karrels. “I always get the sense that they genuinely feel fortunate to be able to help. Philanthropy should be joyful, and the Trones really reflect that idea.”

At first glance, Anna Parisi-Trone and Robert Trone, both 55, appear to be a study in contrasts. She is warm, vivacious and casual; he is quiet, reserved and a bit formal.

But sitting at their kitchen table in Potomac on a summer afternoon, they speak in tandem about the values they share—particularly their Catholic faith. Anna, the child of Italian immigrants, grew up in the religion, while Robert converted from Lutheranism when Sophia was a year old.

“I had a close relationship with my wife and daughter, so it was a logical choice,” he says.

“They say that converts make the best Catholics,” Anna adds, smiling.


The Trones chaired the 2011 Catholic Charities Gala at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park.

Monsignor John Enzler oversaw Robert’s religious instruction when he was pastor at Our Lady of Mercy. “He’s got a great soul,” says Enzler, who is now president and CEO at Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. “Faith guides him, and he wants to serve others.”

Faith and serving others were at the heart of Anna Parisi’s childhood. She grew up in the Little Italy neighborhood of Wilmington, Delaware, the middle child of five and the second one born in America—her parents had emigrated from Castel Morrone in the Campania region of Italy in 1955. Her father spoke little English and worked in a plastics factory in Newark, Delaware, taking several buses to his job because the family didn’t own a car. Her mother was a homemaker who grew and canned her own tomatoes but always found a way to stretch the family’s budget to help neighbors in need.

Many of those neighbors were also from Castel Morrone, including Anna’s first employers, an elderly couple who owned an ice cream shop and hired her at age 8 to run errands and stock the soda cooler for 5 cents an hour.

Anna attended all-girls Catholic schools through high school, and she remains close to her childhood friends, making a point of organizing an annual get-together in Wilmington. “Anna’s always been our catalyst,” says Vicki Allegretto, who has known her since the second grade.  

With the help of scholarships and student loans, Anna put herself through Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science (now Philadelphia College), where she studied fashion merchandizing. After college, she moved to New Jersey and worked for J.G. Hook and then for Liz Claiborne, the fashion juggernaut of the 1980s. Her dream was to live in New York, but believing she couldn’t afford it, she returned to Philadelphia, where she worked in sales at The Franklin Mint—part of a team that pushed the company’s annual revenue from $800 million to $1 billion. She was then hired by QVC, where she was working when she met her future husband.

Also the middle child of five, Robert Trone was raised on a 200-acre chicken and hog farm outside Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “Farm work is very hard work,” he says.

“Everything after that has seemed easy.”

His father, who had an entrepreneurial bent, built guest cottages on his property, as well as a gas station/beer store. When Robert’s parents divorced in 1981, his mother took the store and his father got the farm. Robert and his older brother David helped out with both while attending college at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, but the farm eventually went bankrupt, while the store prospered. The brothers, who had decided to go into business together, concluded that sticking to one type of business, rather than doing several things at once, was the key to success.

Robert attended law school at Penn, and David got an MBA at The Wharton School. After they graduated, the brothers opened beer stores in Hanover and Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania state law allowed only one store per person and required beer to be sold by the case, so the brothers moved in 1991 to less-restrictive Delaware and expanded into wine and spirits.

Robert and David gradually grew their company, then called Liquor World, through the 1990s, developing a model that offered elements of both high- and low-end stores: discount prices, an attentive and well-trained sales staff, and a vast selection.

In 1998, they acquired the D.C.-area chain Total Beverage and renamed the company Total Wine & More. In 2000, they moved the company’s headquarters to Montgomery County. With more than 7,000 employees, including 500 in Maryland, and stores in 17 states, Total Wine & More calls itself the country’s largest independently-owned alcohol retailer. According to Trone, the company projects that its 2015 revenue will be $2 billion.

Vicki Allegretto says she knew right away that Anna and Robert were a good match. Her husband, Steve, had met Robert through business, and in 1994 the Allegrettos decided to set the two up. They were scheduled to meet in the Burgundy aisle at the Trones’ store in Claymont, Delaware. Anna had agreed to go only if the Allegrettos went with her.

“We saw immediately that this was probably going to work out pretty well,” Vicki says about watching the couple meet. “Steve and I made ourselves scarce.”
Robert invited Anna up to his drab, windowless office—which didn’t faze her. “I saw it as a testament to how hard he worked,” she says.  

The two had dinner at an Italian restaurant the following evening, and first impressions proved correct: They had much in common, including, perhaps, a lack of impulsivity. After four years of dating, the couple got engaged. They married in October 1998.

Anna worked in sales for Total Wine until Sophia was born in 2002. “She took maternity leave and said she was coming back, but that was 13 years ago, so I’m guessing she’s not coming back,” Robert says with a laugh.

Over the last 13 years, Parisi-Trone has dedicated much of her time to fundraising. Her warmth and sociability have made her a natural at turning staid fundraising events into joyous occasions. As a board member of Imagination Stage, Parisi-Trone co-chaired with Jean-Marie Fernandez and Evonne Connolly a fundraising effort for a Kennedy Center co-production of The Lion King. They were so successful that they’ve been asked to raise money for next year’s co-production of The Little Mermaid with The Washington Ballet.

The Trones often donate wine for galas, which adds to the fruitfulness—and festivity—of such events. “More people will come when there’s a free glass of wine,” says Anna Hargrave, the interim executive director of the Community Foundation.  

The couple is heavily involved in fundraising for Mercy Health Clinic in Gaithersburg, which provides free medical care for low-income county residents. Robert sits on the 12-member board of Catholic Charities, helping to shepherd the $70 million that the organization spends on 65 different programs in Montgomery County and throughout the Washington area, including medical and dental clinics, pro bono legal services for immigrants, mental health and addiction programs, and shelters for the homeless and for women and children fleeing domestic abuse.

Karrels, the head of school at Stone Ridge, calls the Trones a “dynamic blend.”

“Anna is very social and loves bringing people together as a vehicle for building community, inspiring giving and expressing gratitude,” Karrels says. “Robert uses his business sense to help analyze impact as well as communicate with other stakeholders about the metrics of fundraising. Where they are in complete synchronicity with one another is the spirit of their generosity.”

Award

Each year, The Community Foundation in Montgomery County recognizes successful area businesspeople who “give where they live,” as the organization puts it.

Recipients of the Montgomery County Philanthropist of the Year award are: Josh Freeman in 2007; Craig Ruppert in 2008; Stewart Bainum in 2009; Carol Trawick in 2010; Jeffrey Slavin in 2011; Patrice and Scott Brickman in 2012; Solomon Graham in 2013; Tammy Darvish in 2014; and Anna Parisi-Trone and Robert Trone this year.

If you would like to nominate someone to be the 2016 Montgomery County Philanthropist of the Year, watch for an announcement in an upcoming issue of Bethesda Magazine. To learn more about the Community Foundation, go to www.thecommunityfoundation. org.

 

Kathleen Wheaton lives in Bethesda.

 

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