The Barra Foundation, Inc. is a private, nonprofit philanthropic organization that serves the five-county Philadelphia region. Barra was originally incorporated in 1963 as The Robert L. McNeil, Jr. Foundation, after its founder. In 1968, to honor his family’s Scottish heritage, Robert McNeil re-named it The Barra Foundation. The Isle of Barra, located in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland, is the ancient and ancestral home of the Clan Macneil, to which Mr. McNeil was proud to belong. Kisimul Castle, the clan chieftan’s home, provides inspiration for The Foundation’s logo.
The late Mr. McNeil, the former Chairman of McNeil Laboratories, created The Foundation to support nonprofit organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life of the Philadelphia region. His tireless philanthropy perennially encouraged innovative ideas and concepts, which remain the main focus of The Foundation today.
Mr. McNeil served as President of The Foundation from the time of its inception through 2001. Following his tenure as President, he acted as Chairman of the Board for three years and remained on the board of directors until his passing in 2010.
About the Founder
Robert L. McNeil, Jr., was born in 1915 and grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, attending Germantown Academy. After graduating from Yale University and the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now known as the University of the Sciences), Mr. McNeil began his career in 1936 as a part-time employee at his grandfather’s company, McNeil Laboratories. The company began as a neighborhood drug store in 1879 and had steadily grown into a successful drug marketing concern. After Robert McNeil joined the family business, he spearheaded the transformation of McNeil Laboratories into a major pharmaceutical company, and was eventually responsible for developing and marketing such breakthrough products as Butisol™ and Tylenol™. In 1959, McNeil Laboratories was purchased by Johnson & Johnson.
Robert McNeil continued as Chairman at McNeil Laboratories for an additional seven years following the sale, retiring as planned in 1967. With a strong sense of community and an ardent passion for the arts, Mr. McNeil championed countless organizations in the Philadelphia area. Throughout his life, his thoughtful backing of myriad charitable causes contributed significantly to the well-being of the Philadelphia region.