May 12, 1921 — March 15, 2019
Bessie L. Robinson, known as "Mother Robinson" in the Evening Star Church of God in Christ on Fillmore Avenue, was much more than an active and devoted pastor's wife.
A longtime psychiatric ward clerk in the old E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital, Mrs. Robinson was also a licensed cosmetologist, a tailor and an avid fisherman.
"Yes, she wore many hats," said her son, Burl L. Smith. "But let me tell you about her hats, too. As a church first lady, she always wore hats of every color and design, and she looked distinguished and proper. We called her the jewel of the church."
Mrs. Robinson died March 15, 2019, in her Cheektowaga home. She was 97.
Born in Marion, La., she was the daughter of Willie and Vester (Byrd) Andrews, and the second oldest of four children. She graduated from Warren High School. In school she played guard on the basketball team.
When she was 13, she told her family, her father taught her to drive a 13-gear logging truck. After that, she said it was no problem learning to shift gears in a car, her son said.
The family moved to Pine Bluff, Ark., where Mrs. Robinson supervised the officers dining hall in an aviation school during World War II. In 1944, after the death of her mother, she visited Buffalo for the first time to stay with her uncle, Bonnie Byrd.
She then moved to Kansas City, where she worked as a supervisor in a synthetic rubber plant. After moving to Pine Bluff, Ark., she graduated from Collingworth Beauty College. During that time she also modeled hairstyles at the P.K. Miller Theater. After graduation, she worked in the beauty shop on the Agricultural, Mechanical and Normal College at Pine Bluff.
In 1948, Mrs. Robinson moved to Buffalo, where she earned her state cosmetology license and worked as a beautician. She began work in 1952 as a ward clerk in the psychiatric nursing department of Meyer Memorial Hospital, the forerunner of the Erie County Medical Center. She worked there for 25 years, retiring in 1977.
In the evenings, Mrs. Robinson took classes at the Helen Grabowski School of Tailors, becoming a certified tailor. She made her own clothing and a few garments for her son, but "that was more like a hobby for her," said her son. "She didn't get into it as a business; she didn't have the time."
In Buffalo, Mrs. Robinson joined Holy Temple Church of God in Christ, where she served as Sunday School teacher, president of the Young People Willing Workers group, secretary of the Bible Band, a radio announcer and church clerk. She sang with the McClellan Gospel Chorus and worked with the Nurses Unit.
Statewide, her church work included serving with the Nurses Unit and the Women in White and as assistant secretary for the state Mothers Board. She earned her Evangelist Missionary License.
In 1965, she became the bride of Elder Marvin W. Robinson, who was a minister at the Holy Temple Church of God in Christ. In 1972, Elder Robinson founded the Evening Star Church of God in Christ in a couple of storefronts, Mr. Smith said. The congregation constructed the church's current building, which opened in 1989.
Mrs. Robinson served as district president of the Ministers Wives organization for many years. At her church, she was a Sunday School superintendent and teacher, Bible Band teacher, president of YPWW and the Mothers Board. She was also church clerk and organist.
When she had free time, she loved to fish, dropping lines at several favorite places, including the foot of Ferry Street and Ellicott Creek. "Last summer, until she was hospitalized at the end of August, she had already gone fishing" with a grandson, Smith said.
"When she taught me to fish, I was 5 years old and the pole was bigger than me," her son said. "She would get up at 5 in the morning to go fishing, put multiple hooks on a line, and have poles all over. She would be out there all day long until sunset. She would clean her fish at home and cook it, too."
Besides her son and husband of 54 years, Superintendent Rev. Marvin W. Robinson, Mrs. Robinson is survived by five stepdaughters, Peggy Sanford, Tina Robinson, Francine Jones, Anita Robinson and Gwen Ingram; a stepson, the Rev. Tony Robinson; two grandsons and many stepgrandchildren and step-great-grandchildren. Her second stepson, James Robinson, died two months ago.
A service will begin at noon Monday, March 25 in Evening Star Church of God in Christ, 1552 Fillmore Ave.