Back in the mid-90s (on the 30th anniversary of the Summer of Love), my late husband, legal journalist Tim Robinson and I moved to San Francisco where we rented an apartment in an elegant townhouse adjoining Golden Gate Park until the end of 2002. Our landlords were Professor H. Maurice Tseng and his wife Gloria, a manager at Bank of America. Sadly, I got news recently that Gloria had passed away and I wanted to share why her loss weighed so heavily on me, as I remembered her talent for transcending cultures and spreading love.
Gloria was from Guayaquil, Ecuador in South America and had met and married the son of a Chinese diplomat in New York City, where she worked as a Spanish translator and editor for Merck. The couple moved to San Francisco in 1962 with two small boys – David and Steven – who from birth were immersed in both cultures. Their father taught Chinese language and literature at a local university, while Gloria graduated from college with a BA in business administration, starting a 30 year career in management at Bank of America — often focused on her bank’s community outreach programs targeting Chinese, Hispanic, and other immigrants.
I was a communications consultant and eagerly invited Gloria — who knew so much about the city and its immigrant communities — to join my networking organization, Women in Business. It gave us both further opportunities to bond with other business leaders from many backgrounds, as well as create new strategies for advancing women in area businesses. We often got to laugh together, especially important after the death of her husband about a year after we moved in.
During the years in SF, we shared recipes and cookouts with the Tsengs and their neighbors, as well as gospel music that Tim played on his old Story and Clark upright piano, inspired by Baptist missionaries living next door (I still am in touch with Linda and Eric Bergquist). I was often back in San Francisco over the years and Gloria insisted that I stay at her home and cooked delicious ethnic dishes for me. I will always miss this extraordinary business and community leader, her family and that elegant townhouse that felt like a second home.
For the first time since 2006, I didn’t make it to Birmingham, Alabama in the spring for the Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum at Samford University in honor of my late husband, a pioneering legal journalist. There were delays this time in scheduling the busy speaker, Brian Lyman, a political reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. He was tentatively scheduled to appear in March, but local political events kept interfering – and even the April 10th appearance was cancelled that morning when the Alabama Governor suddenly resigned in a major scandal.
In the end, I was grateful that Samford’s Journalism and Mass Communications department was able to set up a live electronic feed when the Forum was finally rescheduled to May 1st and I got to be a faraway participant.* Lyman had a positive message for Samford’s journalism students – arguing that despite the struggles, local newspapers like the Montgomery Advertiser were evolving in exciting times. He explained that the declining newspaper revenue that resulted in fewer editors monitoring a reporter’s copy also could have a positive result: a new freedom to pursue the kind of human stories first crafted by heavyweights like Jimmy Breslin back in the 60s. He concluded that today’s reporters must be story tellers – “we must show how facts are experiences.” Lyman further said that political journalism focuses on power – and stories about the use and abuse of power are important and need to be covered, summing it up with the challenge that “Reporters must be the bridge between the council chamber and the living room.”
In a time of change and increasing public distrust of the media, it was refreshing to hear a reporter champion the challenges today, and glorify the local beat . My late husband started on local beats in Alabama during a time of great change in the 60s and was always just as proud of those years as his later part in pioneering legal journalism on a national scale. I was thankful for this affirmation of the power of local news. And this fall I plan to visit Tim’s amazing family in Birmingham – and also look forward to meeting the latest students to benefit from the Robinson Forum , as well as from the scholarship program and an internship at the Washington Post. Go Samford!
*My thanks to Bernie Ankney, Chair, Journalism and Mass Communications Dept. and Jackie Long, Recruitment and Alumni Affairs Officer for coordinating the electronic feed – and to my brother in law Michael Robinson and his wife Carolyn, who kept me informed on all the changes and represented the family in person this year.
“I have had a wonderful life…and I am placing my fate in God’s hands,” former President Jimmy Carter
told the nation at a press conference on a steamy August day in the south. Already an honored senior
statesman thanks to his direction of the Carter Center – which is renowned the world over for its
advocacy of human rights and democracy and earned him the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize — Carter gave a
statement that day which emblazoned itself into the American consciousness as truly heroic.
Yet this evolution into statesmanship came after a rocky presidency.
Like many Americans, I remember the scathing economy under President Carter, the oil shortages and
high prices and ultimately the Iranian hostage crisis and botched rescue. Yet the President so
humiliated by his ultimate defeat in his run for a second term, has become a moral giant in his battle
against a melanoma that has spread to his liver and now his brain.
Now 90, Carter displayed humility, humor, gratitude and amazing wisdom in accepting the diagnosis
and remarking “I’m ready for anything and I’m looking forward to a new adventure.’
According to a story filed by CNN, Carter described his partner Rosalynn, the former First Lady as the
“pinnacle” of his life for 69 years now. Thank you, Mr. Carter, for showing us what grace looks like in the
face of a horrific medical situation. That is true leadership.
I have often lectured on the power of teams in shaping one’s career – and I recently completed a dream team assignment over the holidays with the Honors College at Wayne State University –revamping and preparing a research website for launch. I was a graduate of Monteith College at WSU, but after that small experimental college closed its doors, graduates became affiliated with Honors.
Last winter I finally got a chance to start networking through the WSU alumni association and met the Honors Dean, Jerry Herron, who turned out to be both a southerner from Texas, (my late husband was from Alabama) and a former New Yorker (Brooklyn felt like my second home) before he was recruited to Wayne State University. He chose to live in downtown Detroit for many years and wrote lyrically about his belief in the resilience of the city, including AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History.
One of my dreams since I recently returned to my hometown from Brooklyn was to help in the revitalization of a once great city. I already had experience in watching cities fall apart and finding ways to impact their revival, in both Brooklyn and LA. I also had a lot of experience in launching new projects, both organizations and websites, including in SF during the dotcom boom years.
The key, I always believed, was not in individual glory, but in working with great teams. After meeting and talking with Dean Herron, I was sure the Honors College was already a leader in Detroit and I just wanted to help spread its influence through vital research and community service (part of the four pillars of the College) on the area’s future. While my time on the project went by too quickly, it was long enough to verify the influence of powerhouse individuals both at the college and WSU or partnering with the University. I am including the link where you can see all the extraordinary individuals affiliated with Honors ( http://honors.wayne.edu/about/honors-faculty.php). I also worked closely with Andre Moses, a graduate of Eastern’s Honors program, who served as my student intern and associate. I remain so grateful for this opportunity and only hope I can continue to be involved in Detroit’s future as it emerges from bankruptcy into a bright new day.
I’ve always believed in the healing power of laughter, but I didn’t realize what an affirming lesson was in store for me recently when I flew to Northern California to help celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of my late husband’s oldest brother Gerald and his wife Martha. Both southerners, they met when he was stationed at an army base near her hometown. I was expecting a rather traditional event, but instead the community center in their Coarsegold community near Yosemite Park was even more a celebration of their years together as clowns!
I had experienced the special joy Martha and Gerald shared with others through their clown company, Carrousel of Clowns, when my late husband and I lived in Los Angeles. I was especially honored back then in the early ’90s when they asked me to help them create a brochure and invited us to many of their events, including cheering up the elderly in nursing homes and sick children in hospitals, as well as clowning at festivals and parades and private parties. But I didn’t realize that the clowning began so early in their marriage – and that Gerald had already discovered his lifelong avocation before they met.
Carman George, a reporter for Sierra Star, a local newspaper, captured the joy that clowning brought to their lives and to those around them in a half page article before the event that seemed to set the tone for the actual day. She also was there that day to chronicle the fun and laughter shared with their friends.
As we entered the community hall, each guest was quietly given a squeezable red clown nose to hide In a pocket so that everyone could surprise the couple before they cut their anniversary cake. More than 80 people crowded the hall. I sat next to three generations of a family involved in my relatives’ clown company, which is still active in Los Angeles. They talked about what great role models Martha and Gerald were for them as they shared their love of clowning.
Finally it was time for the toast and Gerry and Martha were asked to close their eyes while everyone put on the red noses. We toasted the surprised and delighted couple and laughed at each other’s funny faces. Thank you, Luther and Molly( their clown names), the revelers seemed to be saying, for taking your magic and laughter to Coarsegold and brightening up the lives of yet another community!! They love you for it!
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.