Former Vienna Town Council member Maud Robinson, who fought for decades to maintain Vienna’s small-town character, died March 11 at age 96.
Robinson died at Inova Fairfax Hospital surrounded by friends, said Mayor Laurie DiRocco, who lauded her as “a shining example of a lifetime of service and volunteerism.”
Robinson “always encouraged residents to learn how local government worked, and she believed that the well-being of the town really depends on informed and constructive involvement by all the citizens,” the mayor said. “Her passing is really the end of an era in our town and she will be greatly missed.”
Maud Ferris Robinson was born April 15, 1922, in Stamford, Conn. – 10 years to the day after R.M.S. Titanic sank beneath the cold Atlantic waves and 57 years exactly after President Lincoln died. She was descended from the Ferris family in England, which came to North America in the 1630s and helped found Greenwich, Conn.
Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and did intelligence and communications work with the U.S. Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) during World War II. She attended law school at the University of Virginia for two years and married Charles Robinson, with whom she moved to Vienna in 1951.
Her husband served on the Vienna Town Council and then was mayor from 1976 until his death in January 2000. The Council appointed member M. Jane Seeman to fill the late mayor’s unexpired term and appointed Maud Robinson to serve out Seeman’s term. She would serve through 2009.
Robinson previously had been one of the first members of the Board of Architectural Review and served on the Town/Business Liaison Committee and the Church Street Vision Committee, DiRocco said. She also served as president of the Vienna Woman’s Club, Ayr Hill Garden Club and Historic Vienna Inc.; was a founding member and president of the town’s library; was a past member of the Vienna Lions Club and the American Legion.
Robinson advocated for an integrated library in Vienna and establishment of the town’s community center, and she helped craft the ordinance that preserved Northside Park in its natural state, said former Vienna spokesman Marie Kisner.
“Charlie and Maud – you almost have to say their names together – were inseparable and did so much to make Vienna what it is today,” Kisner said.
Robinson “was just a no-nonsense lady, for sure, and just had such great insight, such common sense,” said Town Council member Linda Colbert. “She and Charlie didn’t have kids, and I think that Vienna was their family.”
Council member Pasha Majdi echoed Colbert’s sentiments.
“Maud Robinson made Vienna a wonderful, special place for a family and kids to grow up and want to stay, grow into adults, start their own family and raise the next generation,” he said. “We’ve lost a monumental figure in Vienna history.”
Robinson was a great mentor who offered wise counsel, said Council member Carey Sienicki.
“I really think fondly about some of the first advice that she gave us, which was, ‘Do your research and make a stand and back up what you believe,’” she said.
Robinson fondly recalled her flinty New England upbringing, including her father’s patriotic reaction after a flood in the 1950s wiped out his store in Stamford.
“He was in his 70s and faced with a huge financial hit,” Robinson said. “We were driving into town and he told me, ‘Whatever happens to me today, don’t let me forget to vote.’”
Robinson was a good person to call when writing the obituaries of notables – provided she liked them. Chances were 50-50 that she would be lavish in her praise or – off the record, of course – pointed in her criticism.
Although she resided at an assisted-living facility near the end of her life, Robinson long had lived at her sprawling house on Courthouse Road, S.W. She lamented her infirmities and said 85 was the idea lifespan.
“Forget about your ‘golden years,’” she said. “It’s no fun being in your 90s. I was fine until I was 89 and then – whammo! – I couldn’t do anything.”
Robinson for decades drove only one car: a low-mileage, dark-green, early-1990s Toyota Corolla station wagon with a manual transmission. But she did not drive outside the town’s corporate limits.
“I know if something happened outside of town, they’d say, ‘That old lady did it!’” she said. “I’ve got to keep the insurance company happy.”
Retired Master Police Officer Bill Murray of the Vienna Police Department said Robinson was “Vienna royalty” and “cared more deeply about our town than anyone I had ever met, with the possible exception of her late husband, Charlie.”
Robinson valued the town’s police force and welcomed Murray when he joined the department.
“She was ecstatic to learn that I was a Vienna boy policing the same town in which I grew up and we formed a great friendship from then on,” Murray said.
Town Attorney Steven Briglia said Robinson and her husband pressed him into public service when he returned to the town after college. He got a sense of Maud Robinson’s influence during his first run for Town Council.
“I knocked on doors, as Maud told me I had to, and more than one [resident] said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, Steve. We’re going to vote for you,’” Briglia said. After the candidate had expressed his appreciation, the prospective voter sometimes added, “Maud said we had to.”
“There was a little bit of fear in their voices,” Briglia joked, “but it was an endorsement that went a long way in this town.”
Robinson, who did not like fusses and had only a quiet dinner with her husband on their 50th anniversary, will have a private burial.