Tom Petty and Dream Teams
There’s a lot being written lately about the importance of “dream teams” in success.
Malcom Gladwell writes about it in Outliers and Keith Ferrazzi in his new book Who’s Got Your Back. My late husband Tim Robinson, a legendary journalist, often said he wasn’t sure if it was talent or pure luck that got him bylines covering major civil rights stories and then a key role on the Watergate team at the Washington Post, pioneering legal journalism and finally one of the early experts inventing the editorial side of search on the internet – he always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. But he also surrounded himself with amazing “teams,” and I think the most remarkable was his family.
It all started in the south, in a small town called Dora, Alabama. I remain so proud to have been accepted as an honorary Southerner and part of the extraordinary Sumner and Robinson families. Tim’s parents, Clarence and Edith Sumner, both alumni of Samford University in Birmingham (then known as Howard College), were the first dream team in Tim’s life. He adored them. Samford was the school that gave the entire Robinson family the key to a brighter future. Clarence Robinson had started college at Howard but dropped out because of the depressions to work as a coal miner for most of his early career until around the age of 40. That’s when the mines started closing and he lost his job. Tim’s father’s solution to this midlife crisis? He found the courage to go back to college and. finish his degree in education at Howard, becoming a high school teacher. He also encouraged his wife Edith to get her education degree, and later pushed all their kids to attend: Terah, Gerald, Mike, Nelson and Tim, the youngest. When they were together, the Robinsons generated amazing warmth and love as a family, something I got to experience when I was first engaged to Tim. He father was also a Baptist preacher and the first time I flew south to meet the family, Tim happily took me to the small Baptist Church near their home for Sunday Service (where his father preached while Tim played the piano), followed by a potluck lunch on the grounds with heaping servings of his mom’s delicious chicken and potato salad.
When Tim announced to his parents at an early age that he wanted to be a Washington Post journalist when he grew up, they encouraged him. Tim was taught his first lessons by his mother in a one-room schoolhouse in Pumpkin Center. He had mastered the violin and piano by age 5 and tested out at 170 IQ long before he graduated from Dora High School at the age of 15. He started college and also landed the first job in his storied newspaper career at the Daily Mountain Eagle, where he had already been calling in football scores to the sports pages while in high school.
Before he could vote, he was assistant city editor at The Birmingham Post-Herald and working on the weekends as a reporter for UPI, all as he finished his degree at Samford. And yes, he made it to the Washington Post, but not until he was turned down a few times by the hiring editor as too young. Tim’s solution to this setback was to get his graduate degree in journalism from American University and keep trying. He then took an interim job as an editor at the weekly Examiner, but was still in his early 20s when he finally was hired and eventually named to the Watergate team.
Tim always loved to talk about his family and the importance of being in Alabama for Christmas while his parents were alive. Even after their death, Tim still had the strength of family to lean on – when we moved out to California, we got to live near the two oldest brothers he had missed knowing well as an adult, Gerald and Mike and their spouses Martha and Caroline in LA and his Uncle Mike and Aunt Adah’s large family in Northern California.. Then when the economy got tough in southern California and both of us found our jobs threatened, Tim kept listening to LA’s Tom Petty and Heartbreakers singing “Running Down a Dream” and refused to look back as he took on the Internet and brought me along, all the while remembering his courageous parents were not afraid to dream big when the world was changing around them.