Retired banker Robert Frank Dogens is well-known in Charlotte’s prominent finance sector as a former senior Vice President at Wells Fargo, but he’s made as much of an impact, if not more, as a community activist. He’s spent a lifetime building that history of volunteerism alongside his career, in many cases harnessing the same skills that brought him such success as an executive. His genuine enthusiasm for the work, his talent for leadership and his belief in leading by example have led him to seats on the boards of half a dozen community and philanthropic organizations. At the same time, he’s remained active in street-level endeavors — literally, in the case of the city’s annual AIDS Walk. Dogens chats with qnotes about the surprising roots of his professional path, his experience of so-called retirement, and the projects he believes we should place at the top of our national to-do list.
Where did you grow up, and how long have you lived in the Charlotte area?
I am a native of Louisiana, born in New Orleans and grew up in a small town called Minden. I moved to North Carolina in 1997, I’ve been in Charlotte for 18 years.
You recently retired after more than three decades in the banking industry, having built an undeniably impressive résumé. What led you to choose the career you did? What did you enjoy about your work?
It’s funny… I choose banking as a career because banks closed at 2 p.m. when I was growing up… LOL. But I quickly became interested in finance and really enjoyed my time in banking. It’s more than checks and deposits. It sounds cliché, but I really love the people and leading teams the most.
How have you been spending your time since leaving those 9-to-5 obligations behind?
I’m still adjusting, but I’ve spent time traveling and visiting with family and friends. I haven’t started any of those “household projects” that I was going to tackle “once I retire”.
The past few years have been a time of massive upheaval in all areas of social justice, from legal rights for members of the queer community to police brutality and institutional racism. Of all the battles being fought, which do you consider the most vital, or closest to your heart?
The battle for marriage equality was important to me and was a significant step to achieving full equality for LGBT+ people. Secondly, the most vital battle ahead is to secure full employment, housing and non-discrimination protections for LGBT+ members of the community.
As an activist — and as a human being — do you ever feel overwhelmed by the turmoil constantly making headlines? If so, how do you cope?
Yes, it can be overwhelming sometimes with the 24/7 news cycle and living in a world that is more connected with social media and technology. I find myself taking a break from social media and reading books, watching movies, or reflecting on what’s important to me.
You once served as a member of the Board of Governors of the Human Rights Campaign. How long did you hold that post? How would you describe the work you did with the organization?
I served on the Board of HRC for five years. I found the work rewarding because at that time HRC was working hard to elect President Obama, secure marriage equality, expand the diversity of its membership base and engage LGBT+ communities more on the local level.
Your history of activism also includes extensive involvement with RAIN. Indeed, the donations you collected as a participant in AIDS Walk Charlotte placed you among the top ten individual contributors in 2018. To what do you credit that success? Do you plan to take part in this year’s event as well?
I’ve been involved with RAIN for about 15 years and actually was a co-chair of the AIDS Walk twice. It’s an organization that has helped people live healthy and full lives with HIV. I will definitely participate in the AIDS Walk this year and hopefully I can get in the top five donors!
Have you worked with any other organizations or causes? If so, what?
Yes, we mentioned the Human Rights Campaign, but I’ve also been on the boards of Equality NC, Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund, Farewell to Summer Foundation (a.k.a. the White Party) and Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte.
You managed to balance a demanding career with a profound dedication to community involvement and the substantial investment of time and energy that entails. What’s your secret?
I’m not so sure it’s a secret, but for me if I was passionate about it, I found the time and energy. If you’re really passionate, this is easy. It’s funny how “life” prioritizes things for you.
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I can be somewhat of an introvert at times. Yeah nobody would think that… LOL.
What do you feel have been your greatest accomplishments so far?
Certainly all the work I’ve done on behalf of RAIN is very important for the organization. I’m also proud to have been on the board of [the Charlotte Lesbian & Gay Fund] as the fund was getting started. Also if I’ve had a positive impact on any life of a person in the Charlotte community then I’m proud of that too.
What would you still like to achieve?
Just to be remembered as a person who stood up for what was right and the marginalized in our community.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to become more involved in the causes they’re passionate about?
That’s easy — “just raise your hand”. LGBT+ and charitable organizations are always looking for passionate volunteers who can give of their time, talent or treasure.