Robinson was not an activist, but she had a habit of calling out injustice, her family said. If she felt that she was being mistreated or given lesser service, she would say so.
“She was fearless about standing up for what she believed,” said her daughter, Holly Robinson. “She would challenge anyone if she thought they weren’t doing the right thing.”
Robinson’s friends and family recalled her quiet power and independent spirit after she tested positive for the novel coronavirus and died April 5 in Silver Spring. Robinson — a mother, aunt and grandmother, and a great-grandmother to three — was 91.
“As I remember her from high school, she was perfect,” said Virginia Coleman, a longtime friend. “She was smart as a whip.”
A few years after graduating high school, she married James Alvin Robinson, and they had two children, Holly and Dana. The family moved to the District in 1958 so her husband, a biochemist for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, could be closer to work.
“She loved Washington, D.C.,” Dana Robinson said, “and all that Washington was about.”
Although she never attended college, Robinson remained a student of the world.
“She was a ferocious reader — even to the end,” Coleman said. “I could always call Betty and ask her ‘What does this mean?’ or ‘What does that mean?’ and she would always have an answer.”
Beyond books, Robinson was also deeply interested in the District’s vibrant arts and culture scene. Her children described growing up in the halls of museums, where Robinson would take them during the hot, sticky summers.
“She took us to every museum in D.C. — every museum, every historical site,” said her daughter, Holly Robinson.
After she retired from a 20-year career at AT&T, Robinson volunteered at the Smithsonian, the National Museum of Women in the Arts and George Washington University’s Textile Museum.
“She really liked being active and involved in the world,” Holly Robinson said. “Doing volunteer work was a way for her to stay active and in touch with the pulse of the arts.”
Affectionately known as “Aunt Betty,” Robinson never forgot a birthday and was quick to celebrate family milestones. She was a fastidious housekeeper, an elegant dresser and a generous host.
“If you’d go to visit Betty, she’d have to have a meal for you,” Coleman said.
Robinson was one to nibble at dinner and indulge in dessert. She had a prodigious sweet tooth that her children say runs in the family.
“Cooking was not her forte,” said Dana Robinson, recalling the singed pancakes and canned salmon croquettes of his childhood. “But she could make dessert. She could do cakes. She could do brownies. She could do bread pudding. She loved sweets.”
But there was no sugarcoating Robinson’s fighting spirit.
“She did not go out shouting, screaming and whatnot,” Coleman said. “She was a very quiet lady, but very strong and very powerful in her own way.”