Alumni Love Affair With Duke

October 1, 2006
Labors of love: Sally and Russell Robinson have created lasting legacies within their hometown, state, and Duke communities

Labors of love: Sally and Russell Robinson have created lasting legacies within their hometown, state, and Duke communities. Angus Lamond

Sally Dalton Robinson '55 says that she has been working closely with the Duke community only for the past decade. But listening to her and husband Russell Robinson II '54, LL.B. '56 tell the story of their romance, it is easy to draw a different conclusion. The Charlotte natives grew up within blocks of each other, but, because of school-district lines, didn't meet until they were teenagers. They began dating the summer before Russell Robinson's first year at Princeton University. By the time she was a freshman at Duke a year later, he could be found frequently hitching rides from Princeton to see her.

That year, their "love affair," as they call it, blossomed, and they found themselves awakening to the fact that they could no longer live apart. He transferred to Duke, advancing, after his junior year and a wedding, into the accelerated program that allowed undergraduates to begin law school their senior year. So, arguably, Sally Robinson's good work for Duke really began in the early 1950s, when she recruited Russell Robinson.

Civic involvement and philanthropy have always been a part of the Robinsons' lives. She has started a nonprofit youth-mentoring organization, has been a founding member of a museum, and has served the Duke community, most notably as a trustee. His law practice has won awards for its pro bono work; he chairs The Duke Endowment and is involved with the United Way and the American Bar Association. These are a few of the reasons the couple has been honored with the 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award, to be presented during Founders' Day ceremonies on September 28.

Established in 1983 by the Duke Alumni Association, the award is given to alumni who have made significant contributions in their own fields, in service to the university, or for the betterment of humanity. The Robinsons were selected from nominations made by Duke alumni, faculty members, trustees, administrators, and students.

At Duke, Sally Robinson majored in history, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and served as president of her sophomore class in the Woman's College. Her philanthropic career began in earnest after her children were off to college.

She co-founded the St. Francis Jobs Program. The organization helped sixteen- to twenty-one-year-olds who had not completed high school earn their diplomas, either through traditional high school or a GED program at a community college, and find work. She says she enjoyed mentoring and helping the diverse group of young people. The program continues as the BRIDGE Jobs Program, run by others.

She also helped found the Levine Museum of the New South, which presents the history of the Charlotte region from 1865 to the present. For the first five years, she says, "we had no building and assembled exhibits wherever we could." She was the founding chair, and continues as chair emerita.

Robinson's service at Duke has been varied and wide ranging. For many years, she was a volunteer for the Alumni Admissions Advisory Committee, interviewing prospective students. From 1995 to 2004, she was a member of the board of trustees and chaired the Student Affairs Committee during her final five years. She says one of her favorite roles was serving on the presidential search committee that selected Richard H. Brodhead. She is currently on the boards of the Center for Documentary Studies and the Robertson Scholars Program and is a co-chair of the Financial Aid Initiative Committee.

In addition, she is a member of the North Carolina Humanities Council's Advisory Committee and serves on the boards of the National Humanities Center, MDC Inc., the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library, the Foundation for the Carolinas, the President's Council of Central Piedmont Community College, and the Women's Inter-cultural Exchange.

Russell Robinson was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and the Order of the Coif at Duke. During his final year of law school, he served as the editor-in-chief of the Duke Law Journal. He has lectured and written about corporate and securities law, is a member of the American Law Institute and a fellow of the American Bar Association, and chaired the committee on civil justice for the Commission for the Future of Justice and the Courts in North Carolina from 1994 to 1998.

His firm, Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson P.A., has done a large amount of pro bono work and was one of the first in the country to win the American Bar Association's pro bono work award as a firm. Robinson has also served on a wide variety of boards and committees. In addition to chairing the board of trustees of The Duke Endowment, he currently serves as counsel for the John Motley Morehead Foundation, chair of the board of directors of the UNC-Charlotte Foundation, chair and director of the UNC-Charlotte Investment Fund, and as a member of the board of visitors of Duke Law School. Robinson has repeatedly been recognized for his work--most recently, with the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Service Award, the YMCA John R. Mott Award, and the Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) Boy Scouts Citizen Leadership Award.

While Russell Robinson deviated from his family's tradition of attending Carolina to go to Princeton and Duke, Sally Robinson's uncle, Harry Dalton '16; her older brother, James G. Dalton Sr. '44, who won the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004; and her sister-in-law, Gwin Barnwell Dalton '46, all contributed to her desire to attend Duke. She says she remembers the excitement of visiting Gwin's dorm room, in Bassett--the dormitory she would later occupy as a freshman.

The Robinsons spent the summer of 1955, after his penultimate year of law school, in New York. Russell Robinson clerked there, and Sally Robinson, after difficulty finding work, removed her Duke degree and Phi Beta Kappa status from her résumé in order to get hired as a "stock girl," taking brokers' orders. After a summer of watching a lot of baseball games, just one of Russell Robinson's passions, and seeing the occasional Broadway show, they returned to Durham expecting a child. The following March, Cammie Rodman Hauptfuhrer '78 was born. Two years later Russell M. Robinson III '81 arrived, followed by Sally D. Robinson '84 in 1962. Now their grandson, Foster B. Hauptfuhrer '08, provides yet another connection to Duke.

Russell Robinson says the couple is honored to receive the DAA's 2006 Distinguished Alumni Award. They "chose to volunteer in education out of a desire to pay back the institutions for the extreme blessings we've had," he adds. And both remember warmly their years at Duke. "Duke has always had a special place in Sally's heart," Russell Robinson says, "because much of our courtship took place there."