Born of English parents in Indonesia and educated in Belgium and in England, Robert W. T. Purvis (1856-1941) served as a bookkeeper and secretary to Grove Farm Plantation owner George Norton Wilcox from 1883 until he retired in 1916.
Wilcox had hired Purvis as his bookkeeper on a trial basis at $100 per month, and Purvis quickly secured permanent employment by earning Wilcox’s confidence and trust.
While managing Wilcox’s accounting books in the course of his duties at Grove Farm, Purvis was familiar with Wilcox’s great generosity.
In 1884 alone, Wilcox discreetly donated over $17,000 to schools and churches to assist Hawaiians in getting an education — a value of about $410,000 in today’s dollars.
Years later, in 1915, Purvis calculated that Wilcox had, up to that time, unobtrusively given $1,500,000 to charity — a sum equal to approximately $35,400,000 in 2013.
Purvis first arrived in Hawaii at Honolulu in December 1877 after several years experience in business and banking in London and three years of military service in the London Scottish Regiment.
On Kauai, he was engaged in sugar planting in 1878 and was employed by Kilauea Sugar Company from 1881 to 1883 as head luna and bookkeeper.
While employed at Grove Farm, Purvis also worked as an auditor at Hawaiian Sugar Company at Makaweli from 1894 to 1896, attended to the duties of clerk in the Kauai Circuit Court from 1885 to 1899, served as acting Kauai sheriff for short periods during 1887, 1888 and 1891, and obtained a license to practice law in the district courts of the Territory from 1906 to 1916.
In no small part due to his marriage to Mary McBryde, the sister of Walter Duncan McBryde, one of the co-founders with W. A. Kinney of McBryde Sugar Co., the meticulous and energetic Englishman was also a director of McBryde Sugar Co. for many years.
He and Mary McBryde had two children.