A ‘trailblazer’ and ‘tireless public servant’
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
In April 2019, longtime New Pittsburgh Courier columnist and Pittsburgh community advocate Louis “Hop” Kendrick penned a column on how, in the crazy world of politics, there were two Pittsburgh Black figures who always served the “people” first.
Kendrick named Dock Fielder, and Bill Robinson.
“Bill proved it when the Democratic Party (Allegheny County, city officials, etc.) built two stadiums (PNC Park, Heinz Field) at the same time, and Bill exposed the fact that not one Black was awarded a major contract. The Democratic Party ordered the colored assassins to get Bill, and he was voted out of office.”
William “Bill” Robinson, a former member of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, Pittsburgh City Council and Allegheny County Council, died on June 9. He was 78.
“On behalf of the Robinson family, thank you for allowing him to serve the great people of this state, Allegheny County and the Greater Pittsburgh region. He died with the utmost love, appreciation and fight in his heart for this region, county, the state and the world. But most importantly, with the love for the people he represented. Thank you for the love and respect that was displayed to him,” read a statement by Bill Robinson’s family, including his children, William R. Robinson II, Nyota N.P. Robinson, and his mother, Annie L. Kemp Robinson.
The pride of Schenley High School, William Russell Robinson graduated from the school in 1960, then attended Ohio State University, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1964. Robinson earned a master’s degree in political science from Duquesne University in 1972.
A skilled writer, Robinson served as a political editor for the Courier, and would make regular radio and television appearances pertaining to local politics.
In 1978, he was elected to the Pittsburgh City Council, where he served until 1985. In 1989, he took it one step further, becoming a member of the state House, serving in District 19. He served in that position until 2002.
In 2003, Robinson became a member of the Allegheny County Council, where he served until 2015.
“I’m sorry to hear of the passing of former State Representative, County Council Member and City of Pittsburgh Councilman Bill& Robinson& who represented his community at the city, county and state levels of government,” Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement.
“I had the pleasure of serving on County Council for eight years with Bill and worked on many groundbreaking initiatives with him, including a countywide smoking ban, creation of a county Human Relations Commission, row office consolidation and many others. It was important work as this county transitioned from the commissioner form of government to an executive and council body form of government.& My condolences go out to the& Robinson& family and their friends on this loss.”
Pittsburgh iconic community figure Alma Speed Fox said she can still remember seeing Robinson at his Pittsburgh legislative office in the Hill District.
“Representative Robinson was fair and represented his district very well,” Fox said in a statement provided to the Courier. “He was an affirmative action person which wasn’t true of everybody who had a position of stature.”
Pittsburgh NAACP President Richard A. Stewart Jr. applauded the civil rights work of Robinson, and recalled how Robinson would walk around the Hill District, talking to residents about important issues.
“Over the years, I found the Honorable William Russell Robinson to have earned the title ‘Honorable,’ always serving with dignity, honesty, and with a commitment to serve those for who he was elected,” said Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO, the Black Political Empowerment Project.
The three African American male state representatives from Western Pennsylvania, Jake Wheatley, Ed Gainey, and Austin Davis, naturally had nothing but praise for Robinson, whose feat to hold elected seats at the city, county and state level are a rarity.
“Bill Robinson was committed to our community, and his service did not end after he left the General Assembly,” Rep. Wheatley, who now represents District 19, said in a statement. “He continued to work to the benefit of all residents in the City of Pittsburgh and beyond. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and loved ones.”
Representative Gainey said Robinson was “one of those individuals who broke the mold, and who everyone seemed to know…Bill showed younger generations what it meant to serve, and was an outstanding role model for so many. I pray for him and for his family. We have lost so much these last few months, but we must remain strong and continue our long march toward justice, freedom and equality.”
Representative Davis, of the 35th District, called Robinson a “trailblazer and tireless public servant.” He also said “many of the African American elected officials in our region today stand on (Robinson’s) shoulders and have walked in the trails that he blazed. He will be greatly missed.”
An open viewing will be held, Friday, June 19, from 4 to 8 p.m., at Jones Funeral Home, 2644 Wylie Ave., Hill District. A mask must be worn. Robinson’s private funeral ceremony (invitation only) will be held Saturday, June 20, at 10:30 a.m., at St. Luke Baptist Church, 659 Herron Ave., Hill District.
FEATURED IMAGE: THE Honorable William “Bill” Robinson, shown here in a photo with his mother, Annie L. Kemp Robinson, and daughter, Nyota N.P. Robinson. Robinson served for decades in public office on the city, county and state level.