West Norrington – Buckets of rain on December 15 brought tears of joy to tears inside the Norristown Area High School auditorium.
At that time, 94-year-old Pearly Mae Wright Robinson, a 1946 graduate, affectionately known in the community as “Cissy,” gifted her alma mater’s music department with a new violin.
In return for her generosity to the school, Wright Robinson was presented with flowers and a hearty round of applause.
The violin was a bit of an upfront gesture, as it was given to her as a replacement when the violin she was playing in high school broke during a string change.
Unable to play an instrument anymore, she came up with an idea.
“I’m like, ‘I’ll call Ernie Hadrick. He’s got all the ties to Norristown,'” she recalls. is.”
Hadrick, a retired educator and community activist, took it from there.
“She called me,” recalls Hadrick. “Soon, she said she wanted to give it to her child. She started wanting to keep the violin forever. It’s the way.”
Hadrick, a former track and field standout and then NAHS coach, passed the baton to Vice Principal Jody Dunston.
When Dunston received a phone call from Hadrick, she gestured to the floor.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “What a wonderful gift to give us. She wanted to give back to her community and her alma mater. And she did so in such a beautiful way by giving us this beautiful instrument.” They gave me.”
“For one thing, I think this is a testament to tradition and community commitment to students.”
Dr. Detrick McGriff, Principal of NAHS, acknowledged the deep connection between alumni and the school, but said this was special in many ways.
“Especially this one is particularly special,” he said. “We have here a 94-year-old graduate of the school orchestra. It shows how far we’ve come as a school and as a community.”
break down barriers
Wright Robinson was in sixth grade at Gotwolds Elementary School when he tested his musical aptitude to play in an orchestra at Stewart Middle School.
“I was one of the few people who went there to learn about playing an instrument,” said Wright Robinson, now a grandmother of two and great-grandmother of four. So I got a violin, and of course I wanted to play the horn, but he said, ‘I need to play the violin.’ I said, “I don’t want to play the violin.” He said, “Try it for me.”
By the time she entered high school, there was no doubt that the violin had become an extension of her.
She was making history when she attended practice on her first day.
“I was the first African-American to play in the Norristown High School orchestra,” she said proudly, adding that two others followed in the years that followed. “I think they called us ‘people of color’ at the time.
Though there may have been some shock and curiosity on the part of the white teachers and students, Wright Robinson took notice of her when she played the second-hand violin her mother had managed to buy for her. I didn’t let it.
Her brother, Leo Wright, received an offer to go on tour with none other than Frank Sinatra.
“We came from a musical family,” said her son, Rob Robinson. “This was before I was born, but Jimmy Smith, the great organist from Norristown, came up to Ann Street and he and my uncle were making noise and rocking the whole block. ”
At Norristown High School, Wright Robinson climbed to the first chair in the second section of the orchestra.
“I think I didn’t think much of it,” she said. I didn’t care. It meant nothing to me at the time.”
Robinson was quick to point out the immediate reaction she received on Facebook after the ceremony.
“A took the picture and posted it,” he said. “One of her comments from one young woman was, ‘Your mother opened the door for me to join the Norristown High School orchestra. It was from a black young woman. It was so nice to see her receive the appreciation she deserves.
“And I’m glad she’s got it now. Glad I got the flowers while she was smelling them.”
After graduating in 1946, Wright-Robinson continued to play the violin alone for his own amusement, but as time went on he did so less and less.
“When I graduated from high school, there was no place I could play other than where I was living at the time, but just for myself,” she said. She said, “I still missed it. Every time I heard the violin, it reminded me of a song she used to play.”
She raised her son, Rob Robinson, who would later become a pastor, and did so as a single mother.
“When my dad left home, the mortgage on the house was $80 a month and my mom was making $85 every two weeks,” Robinson said. “It was a little tight there, but it was doable. She made it work.
Wright Robinson worked as a pharmacy technician at Montgomery Hospital for 46 years, then as a pharmacy secretary, becoming the first person of color in the county to work in a pharmacy, and 19 years on the county court tip staff. He attended the Norristown chapter of the NAACP.
An avid reader, exacting in speaking properly, a trait he learned from his grandmother, Wright-Robinson was known to mentor children.
A playwright and poet, she also sang in her church choir.
“She was blazing a trail without trying to blaze a trail,” Robinson said. “She was just who she was and she was doing what she was doing.”
Robinson recalled one fateful day when he and his mother were walking their young cousins to the bus stop in the dead of winter when they spotted a young girl wearing nothing but a sweater.
“My mother told my mother that it was too cold here and that she only wore sweaters and that she needed to wear a winter coat,” recalled Robinson, who would become a gospel music minister and composer. “The girl said she didn’t have a winter coat.”
Wright Robinson enlisted help from Norristown icon Hank Sisko, then a sergeant at the Norristown Police Department, and the family was given the coat.
“Then people started giving, giving, giving clothes to my mother,” he said. “It got so big that we had to form a non-profit organization, and I became the president of that organization and ran it. .”
From a simple gesture directed at one girl stripped of her clothes, the organization – People Helping People, Families Helping Families – was able to send clothes to places like Poland, Haiti, Mexico, and Africa before running a course. rice field.
So, in many ways, the December 15th honor was Wright Robinson’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“She’s given so much to so many people over the years just by seeing the smile on her face and how happy she is,” Robinson said. She had a hard time raising me as a single mother, and it was so nice to see it come back to her.There is a scripture that says, “You reap what you sow.” It was truly an honor to see her reclaim what she had given over the years, to see her reclaim her accolades was a proud moment for me and her I was very happy for ”
Wright Robinson lost his ability to play the violin as the years went by, but he never forgot the importance of playing the instrument.
“She was still talking about it, but I couldn’t hear her play it much,” Robinson said. But I kept the violin for many years.
“But I know it brought her joy. told me the story.”
It is these memories that made her want to give back to Norristown Area High School (even though it was the only one in her time).
“She’s great,” Hadrick said. “She’s something. She’s very sharp. When she says something that isn’t grammatically correct, she tells me about it. She’s special.”
“She still cares. She didn’t ask a black kid to get it. There’s a community here that black people who only see the downside might not think they care about, and that’s why I thought it was so special.”
Rob Robinson was not at all surprised by his mother’s gesture.
“That’s what she’s been doing all her life,” he said. “That’s what I’ve seen. That’s what I’ve been through. That’s what I’ve been told. It’s not unusual for her to continue giving to people at her 94 years old. She’s always He was that type of person.”
Robinson says he has come to cherish his mother and tries to call her every day unless Judge Judy is on TV.
“She’s just a godly woman,” said Robinson. “She is an example of a Christian woman.
“My mother is a woman of faith and prayer. It was her faith and prayer that got us through the tough times, and she passed it on to me.”