March 24, 2023
CIM mourns the loss of Life Trustee Barbara Robinson
A letter from President & CEO Paul Hogle to the CIM Community
Dear colleagues and friends:
Most at CIM knew her as a trustee or donor, as the name behind the Robinson Library and the Robinson Orchestral Career Fellowship. Those closer to her, including me, knew her simply as Barbara.
What didn’t vary, when it came to Barbara Robinson, was the degree of respect she commanded. Whether you knew her personally or only in name, I think everyone at CIM recognized Barbara for what she was: a pillar of the school, and of the arts in general.
It pains me greatly, therefore, to convey that our dear friend, my dear friend, our Mrs. Robinson, one of CIM’s greatest supporters, has passed away. She died peacefully at her home Wednesday, surrounded by family members. She was a remarkable 93.
She is preceded in death by her husband, Larry Robinson, and survived by daughter Lisa Robinson-Hansel (Robert) and sons James and John Robinson. An obituary is to appear in The Plain Dealer Sunday.
The loss for CIM is incalculable; Barbara’s affection for this school knew no bounds and her generosity on behalf of our students was legendary. It is no exaggeration to say that CIM would not be what it is today if it weren’t for Barbara, and that it will now not be the same without her.
Board Chair Susan Rothmann said it best when she reflected that Barbara’s legacy, leadership and generosity “will resound through the halls, practice rooms, concert stages and the boardroom for years to come.”
CIM is far from the only entity that will be in mourning. Arts organizations everywhere, from our colleagues here in University Circle all the way to groups in the remotest corners of the U.S., are going to feel this loss. Barbara fought vigorously and successfully not just for music but for creative expression in all its forms, on behalf of everyone.
Consider this: Barbara’s testimony before Congress during one of her four terms as chair of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies was key to saving an entity no less significant than the National Endowment for the Arts, the very bedrock of public arts funding in this country.
Meanwhile, during her 13-year tenure atop the Ohio Arts Council, the council consistently ranked among the most generous organizations of its kind in the nation, supporting groups and individual artists with equal passion. One of her proudest moments came in 2006, when Cuyahoga County – during her term as co-chair of the Arts & Culture Action Committee – passed a 30-cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes, in support of the arts. No wonder the Cleveland Arts Prize awarded Barbara a special citation in 2001.
“I think there’s creative energy in everybody,” Barbara told me a few years ago. “The challenge of art and understanding it keeps you alive and makes life very interesting.”
Barbara was born in East Cleveland on Jan. 7, 1930 to Alfred B. and Rose M. Schultz. The family later moved to Shaker Heights, where Barbara graduated high school in 1947. After high school and studies at CIM (and significant musical achievement, to be noted below), she went on to earn degrees in psychology and philosophy at Wellesley College in 1952.
It was at Wellesley where Barbara met Larry Robinson, scion of J.B. Robinson Jewelers and a supporter of the arts and radio journalism. According to a story that later made The Plain Dealer, Larry called Barbara after ignoring her suggestion of who to ask to a dance. The rest was history. When Larry died in 2011, the Robinsons were looking forward to their 50th anniversary.
Barbara’s connection to CIM is almost as old as CIM itself. When I interviewed her recently ahead of her nomination as a CIM Luminary, I was humbled as she recalled taking Dalcroze classes here at the tender age of three and piano lessons with legendary pianists Arthur Loesser and Beryl Rubinstein. She was right there, too, as CIM transitioned from a small school in a church into an independent, nationally ranked conservatory.
Barbara herself evolved in a similarly dramatic fashion. From a young piano student, she went on to become a soloist with the famed Boston Pops. She also advanced to studies at Wellesley College and the Harvard Radcliffe Program in Business Administration. By 1971, she was on the faculty here and vice president of the Cleveland Chamber Music Society, leading The Plain Dealer to conclude – over 50 years ago now – that “Robinson’s involvement in the musical arts in Cleveland has increased to the point where the city’s musical affairs would not be the same without her.”
I don’t have space to recount everything Barbara did here at CIM, but I’ll do my best.
First, in addition to her work on the faculty: her years on the board. Barbara served as a trustee nearly five decades, twice as long as most of our students have been alive. It was for this reason, in part, that we in 2021 named Barbara a Life Trustee, the second of only two such appointments in CIM history.
Barbara didn’t just sit on the board, either. She galvanized it. Under her watch as CIM’s first female board chair from 1987-1991, CIM blossomed, completing an $11.3 million campaign, the largest the school had ever seen at that point, and ushering in a new era under president David Cerone.
Later, Barbara was both the inspiration and a co-chair (along with Trustee Richard Pogue) of the $40 million “Campaign for CIM” that resulted in her greatest legacy, Mixon Hall and the Lennon Education Building. Her family also personally funded what we now call the Robinson Music Library and the Robinson Family Presidential Scholarship. Most recently, Barbara was one of the inaugural supporters of the Century Circle, pledging $100,000 to CIM’s Annual Fund.
Every resource our students have needed to become the best versions of themselves, Barbara has provided. Every subsequent success now traces back, in whole or in part, to her largesse and larger-than-life passion for CIM.
On this latter point, I can again only echo Susan’s recent words to the board: “I cannot thank [Barbara] enough for the example she has set of humble leadership and unwavering dedication. Her unflagging enthusiasm for our work has seen the future of classical music become the present.”
Brilliant and sincere as those words are, they aren’t the ones with which I’ll close. Rather, as we look ahead to celebrating Barbara’s life with a special event in the months to come, I’ll leave you with a moving comment I recently received from artist diploma trumpet student Austin Cruz, a Robinson Orchestral Career Fellow. His words, I think, say it all.
“At a pivotal time in my career,” Cruz wrote, “[Barbara] allowed me to have the space I needed to pursue my dreams. I am deeply honored, grateful and, quite frankly, amazed by the way she has supported the arts.”
There are some whose light in the world is so bright, it continues to shine long after they are gone. Without question, Barbara was one of those. Godspeed, my friend.
Paul W. Hogle
President | CEO
The Mary Elizabeth Callahan Chair