College of Textiles, NC State University
Mendel Leno Robinson, Jr. May 4, 1931 – September 28, 2008
Years of Service at NC State 1957 -1997
Mendel L. (Robi *) Robinson, Jr. was born in Camden, S.C., the son of Mendel L. Robinson, and Mittie West Robinson. He attended public schools and graduated from Paw Creek High School in suburban Charlotte. His father and grandfather, both college graduates, worked for the Kendall Corporation, manufacturers of Kotex brand feminine hygiene products. Robi’s father was a towering 6 ft 4 inches tall and Robi had promise of such heights until he had a burst or perhaps leaking appendix that made him gangrenous. He kept this pain a secret for several days until he was really sick and nearly died. Only the administration of the new wonder drug, penicillin saved his life. Shortly thereafter, at age 14 during a polio epidemic, he contracted that dreaded disease that would wear on him throughout his long life. He never grew beyond about 5 ft 4 in. tall, but made up for it in heart. He met Donna Lee (affectionately known to Robi as “Fang”) Padgett, and on only the seventh date, he asked her whether there was any way she might marry him one day. She said, “Certainly! What has taken you so long?”(1)
* Although Donna called him “Robi”, many of us wrote it “Robbie” and even “Robby”.
A “Cool” Young Robi
Robi in His Office
After high school, he enrolled in the textiles program at N.C. State and found the second love of his life, the study of textiles and the interaction with young people. Robi and Donna never had children of their own but must have parented hundreds if not a thousand young students through the years. His first “job” in the school was a paper grading assignment offered by Professor Ed Bradford. (2) After earning the B.S. Textiles in 1955, he continued his education by earning an MS Textile Technology in 1966 and D.Ed. in 1971 from NC State because there was no PhD in Textiles. His teaching career began officially in 1957. During his 40 year teaching career that lasted until his retirement in 1997, he was honored by the university with two Outstanding Teacher Awards in the College in 1970 again in 1973. He earned the Alumni Distinguished Teaching Award for 1976-1979 (2) His picture appeared in the 1976 NC State Agromeck yearbook as the students honored their “Friends”. In this case, the outstanding teacher from each college was depicted. (3) One dean who often described the College’s faculty has having a certain number of engineers, chemists, physicists, technologists, etc and TWO EDUCATORS. (One was Robi, of course.) I don’t think the Dean ever recognized this was not necessarily a positive way to describe a faculty of 40+ individuals. It was greatly appreciated by the students that somebody or bodies cared for the undergraduates and not just research!
One of the students’ ‘Friends’ in the 1976
Agromeck yearbook (3)
Dr. Robinson had a teaching style that differed from many of the Professors in the department. Although attendance was normally “suggested”, Robbie normally did not have to pay a lot of attention to taking it because of his unique style. His style of teaching was to either sit on the edge of the table at the front of the room and just talk to the students in an informal way or walk back and forth across the classroom (Nelson 123). In both techniques, he used a pronounced sense of humor as he discussed practical concepts related to plant supervision. Once his lectures began, students would initially begin to take notes but soon they would stop taking notes because they were mesmerized by the practical ways that concepts were addressed. Not only did students willingly attend class but many of them could later be seen on a consistent basis sitting and talking with Robbie in his office. During the day, it was rare event not to see one or more students just sitting and talking with him on an informal basis. Photo below illustrates how students focused on Robbie when he was lecturing; it will also be noticed that the taking of notes took a back seat to just listening to the way concepts were addressed. (4)
Dr. Robinson lectures to interested students
The door to his office was never closed to students who flocked there to talk about their problems. Often there were several students camped out at the same time. It is a wonder he ever got his papers graded or his lectures prepared.
Robi and Fang Cutting Up
Robi and Friends at Retirement Party
Robi enjoyed reading, owning sports cars (a Crosley Hotshot and a VW 4CV), collecting several hundred 1/43-scale model sports cars, following Wolfpack sports, Atlanta Braves baseball, golf and communicating with friends. He used WEB TV as his link to the email world after retirement. Whenever the Atlanta Braves were on TV, Robi rooted and screamed all by himself as though he were at the game. He could recall league-standing stats and the names of players years after the records were made.
Robi died September 28, 2008 of complications caused by his long fight with polio and its crippling effects.
Several former students sent notes of appreciation. Here are two examples:
Robby (sic) will never be forgotten by me as he was my mentor and friend during my time spent in Textiles at NCSU. I cannot think of a better friend and influence. ’75 TXT
Please know that Robi had a significant and positive impact on all of us during our years in graduate school at NCSU. Our weekly trips to lunch at the Canton Restaurant on Hillsborough Street, were filled with food, fun, and friendship that have stayed with us over the years. His challenges in and out of class made our pursuit of an advanced degree even more valuable. Thanks for sharing him with us, With fond memories, A graduate student.
- Private Communication, Donna Robinson, January 12, 2012.
- Mock, Gary N., A Century of Progress: The Textile Program North Carolina State University 1899-1999, North Carolina Textile Foundation, Raleigh, 2001.
- 1976 NCSU Agromeck, page 213 http://historicalstate.lib.ncsu.edu/pageturner/agromeck1976nort?page=213&q=school+of+textiles
- Gary W. Smith, Personal communication, May 2012.