Joseph readily admits that as a rambunctious eight-year-old living in Southside Virginia, he was not happy to learn that Mrs. Robinson would be his third grade teacher. She had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian who made students memorize poetry and asked them every Monday morning if they had attended church or Sunday school. At the end of that school year in 1966, Joseph couldn’t wait to be rid of her and was dismayed to encounter her again the next fall in his fourth-grade classroom.
“She fell in love with our class, and followed us all the way through elementary school,” says Joseph. At Brunswick County’s Red Oak Elementary students remained through seventh grade.
Although the parents had always been thrilled about Mrs. Robinson’s dedication to their children, the students only gradually began to understand how important she was to their wellbeing. “She was with me at pivotal points in my life,” Joseph said. “I was really not aware until high school how much she was doing for me behind the scenes.”
Through his parents’ separation, his grandmother’s death, and the trauma of school desegregation, Mrs. Robinson was
the one stabilizing influence in Joseph’s life for five formative years.
“You are a good student.”
“Concentrate on the things you can control, not on the things you can’t.”
“Always do the right thing. There’s no substitute for integrity.”
“Work hard. Do an excellent job the first time.”
“Choose your friends with care; you become who they are.”
These were the messages Mrs. Robinson ingrained in her students. “She gave us a moral compass,” says Joseph,
one that has served him well through school, college, and a successful career in corporate America.
When he recently retired as a human resources executive at Verizon Communications, he decided to follow another of Mrs. Robinson’s adages. “The world should be a better place because you were in it, so give back.” Joseph says
it has been his life’s goal during their forty-five year relationship to live up to this calling.
Mrs. Robinson maintains her home in Lawrenceville, VA, and Joseph still keeps in touch via monthly phone calls. “I
wanted to do something for her that had a sense of permanence,” says Joseph, “so I decided on trying to educate other teachers in her likeness.”
He chose the Curry School, because Mrs. Robinson earned her master’s degree here in 1976 and had a very good
experience, Joseph says. The Viola Reavis Robinson Scholarship will specifically benefit African American women seeking a master’s degree at the Curry School.
Joseph hopes that someone who reads about this gift will be moved to do something similar for another educator.
“Teachers are unsung heroes in our country. They are the architects of our society,” he says. “We owe them a great
deal of gratitude for how they sacrificially give of themselves. In some instances they serve in borderline parenting
roles for children whose parents are unavailable. We need to do more to support them.”
by Lynn Bell
Photo by Tom Cogill
Photo caption: At the annual Curry School Student Awards Luncheon in spring 2010, Joseph met Whitney Bullock, first recipient of the Viola Reavis Robinson Scholarship. “She was definitely the right choice,” Joseph later said about Whitney. “She so reminded me of the type of student Mrs. Robinson herself would have chosen to support.”