Friday, September 25, 2020

Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Ole Miss Retiree Dr. Rachel Robinson

*Editor’s Note: The latest interview in the Ole Miss Retirees features is Dr. Rachel Robinson. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

Dr. Rachel Robinson has quietly gone about making a difference all her life.  She’s incredibly talented, kind, and caring.  Rachel will tackle even the most challenging projects.  She’s always there for you as a friend, mentor, teacher, and advocate.  

Brown:  Where did you grow up?  Describe your hometown and what was special about it.   What impact did it have on you growing up?

Robinson:  I grew up in Jackson, TN.  Jackson was a safe place to grow up.  Growing up in the ’60s & ’70s Jackson was considered a small town.  Most everyone knew everyone or knew someone who knew someone. As kids of the ’60s and ’70s we rode bikes in the street, rode behind the DDT bug spray truck (yes that was a thing),  played baseball in the neighbor’s yard who had the flattest and the biggest back yard,  built treehouses, built forts, always played outdoors, we did not go inside our neighbor’s houses to play.  Moms did not like you inside. We went barefoot or wore flip flops, got stung by honeybees, wasps, chigger bites from playing in the woods, and had skinned knees from bike wrecks.  

Brown:  Please talk about your parents, siblings, and any crazy aunts and uncles.

Robinson:  I’m an only child, but I have a bunch of cousins.  Almost every other Sunday after early church, we would drive from Jackson, TN to Banner, MS to my paternal grandparent’s house for Sunday dinner and visiting with all my aunts, uncles and cousins. Everyone else lived close by. We were the only family from out of town. There were 10 cousins all fairly close in age.   My grandparents had chickens, cows, a horse, a tractor, and a huge barn.  The playtime was great!  Jumping from the top of the barn rafters into hay was outstanding!  However, I learned early on just how to mean a rooster can be!  And, to this day, I’m not a fan of horses.  My grandfather’s horse had a mind of his own and took me under a mimosa tree, where branches promptly knocked me off.  No more horses for me.  

I was very fortunate to have my maternal grandparents live in Jackson, TN very close to our house.   I was the only grandchild who lived in Jackson.  I spent many, many hours with my grandfather, who I called GogGa, most times shorten to Gog.  He had a workshop (aka shed) in his back yard.  He let me do just about anything (within reason) from painting, using a hammer, using screwdrivers, sawing, using a wood plane and drill.  All of his tools were hand tools, no power tools back then. We built birdhouses and windmills.  My love of fixing things came from him.   He was the neighborhood handyman and I was able to accompany him on many “house calls.” I learned a lot from that man.  Even today, I’m not afraid to attempt to fix something if it’s broken or needs to be repaired.

Brown:  What were your favorite things to do as a kid?

Robinson:  Riding bikes and building treehouses were my absolute favorite activities as a youngster. Later in junior high and high school, I liked sports.  There were only a limited number of sports for girls in most high schools.  This was the late 60’s and very early 70’s before Title IX.  But Jackson Central Merry High had more sports for girls than many of the smaller high schools in the area. I’ve always been small and everyone ran all over me in basketball.   So, I figured out that tennis and track were my best options. I loved both and fortunately made the teams.

Brown:  What is your most cherished childhood memory?

Robinson:  My GogGa didn’t have a car so we walked everywhere.  There was a city park about six blocks from his house.  We would walk to the park where I played on the swings, the slide (which seemed 100 feet in the air, but in reality, was probably around 8 feet), the seesaws and the merry go round.  I loved going to the park.  When we got back from the park, we would go to Mr. Mack’s neighborhood grocery store across the street from my Grandfather’s house and Gog would buy me a NuGrape drink and some penny candy.

Brown:  Where did you go to school? 

Robinson:  Grades 1 to 7 were spent at St. Mary’s School.  It was a Catholic school run by nuns and one lay teacher.   St. Mary’s had a good academic reputation and I was fortunate to attend.  School uniforms, mass every morning before school and not so delicious school lunches were the norm.

Grades 8 and 9 were at Tigrett Junior High.  My first taste of street clothes, changing classes, sports, a cafeteria where you could choose your food, and lots of new friends.   No more recess in the parking lot playing dodge ball.  Real PE and real sports like track, tennis, football, and basketball. It was great. 

Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years were at Jackson Central Merry High.  The two city high schools had consolidated.  Jackson High and Merry High were now Jackson Central Merry High.  The schools were located across the street from each other.  We changed classes and buildings just like a college campus.  After consolidation, we became the largest high school in West Tennessee. And the Jackson Coliseum was located between the two schools. We used the coliseum as our gym for PE.  It was incredible to have such a huge facility. 

Brown:  What was your favorite subject in school?

Robinson:  My two favorite subjects were Spanish and Typing.  I took conversational Spanish in junior high and loved it.  I was very fortunate to have the best Spanish teacher at Jackson Central Merry, Mrs. Savage. I took Spanish all three years in high school. Now I struggle to remember “Una Cerveza, por favor.” I took typing in summer school. I was sort of a teacher’s pet in class.  I got to be the student typing assistant in the fall during my free period.  It got me out of study hall. 

Brown:  Describe your teenage self.  

Robinson:  My teenage self was nothing outstanding.  I could not wait to get my driver’s license.  My dad would not let me get my license until I learned to drive a manual transmission.  I practiced driving and shifting gears and using a clutch on a 1963 Plymouth Valiant with 3 speed on the column in our yard.  The Valiant was a “retired” delivery car from my Dad’s drugstore.  The car was notorious for the gears sticking.   Many times, the gears would jam at an intersection.  I would have to get out of the car, raise the hood, and physically pull the gears apart.  Fun times.  

Brown:  Were your parents strict?  Did you have a curfew? 

Robinson:  I think most parents were strict when I grew up.  At least all my friends’ parents were similar in their privileges.   We were respectful to our parents, yes ma’am, no sir. And we all had curfews.   There was no dating on weeknights during school.  Eleven p.m. curfew on Friday and Saturday.  Curfew wasn’t an issue for me, since I knew I would have to go to work at 8:00 AM on Saturday.  I worked with both parents, my mom Mickey, who kept the books at our drugstore, and of course, my dad was the pharmacist.  

Brown:  I came from an age that you could either be a secretary, a nurse, or a teacher.  Please share with us what you wanted to be when you grew up.  

Robinson:  I had a fabulous eighth-grade science teacher. With his influence, I thought that I really wanted to be a science teacher.  I liked science class, thought the science projects were great fun and I found science easy to understand.   So even though I majored in pharmacy, I sort of ended up as a “science teacher” by being pharmacy faculty. Right?

Brown:  Who influenced your career path?

Robinson:  My dad, now age 93, is a pharmacist and had his own drugstore. I worked in my Dad’s drugstore from the time I was old enough to run the cash register, stock the Coca-Cola machine, dust shelves and drive the delivery car.  My Dad had a huge influence on me, especially my work ethic. He always put his patients (we called them customers then) first.  He would go back after hours to fill prescriptions for emergencies.  He gave customers credit when they could not pay.  He treated everyone fairly.  I appreciate the example he set for me. 

Rachel with her father, Loye Costner

Brown:  What was your very first job?  What were your responsibilities?  How much did you get paid?

Robinson:  My very first paid job was mowing lawns.  I mowed my next-door neighbor’s yard and I mowed our yard.  Paid?  I really don’t remember the exact amount, but at the time, I thought it was a fortune!

Brown:  What was the best part of college?

Robinson:  Was there a bad part of college?  I loved college from day one of pre-college to graduation.  College was a time to reinvent yourself.  I was the only person from my high school to come to Ole Miss.  No high school baggage.   College was freedom and independence.  Gasoline was cheap and Memphis was close.  We thought nothing of driving to Memphis to eat ribs at Rendezvous then have drinks at Pierre’s Bar downstairs at the Holiday Inn.  Overton Square was a great spot for music and food.  

Brown:  How did you decide on Ole Miss for your pharmacy education?

Robinson:  I applied to several Tennessee colleges and to Ole Miss.  I got a scholarship to Ole Miss and could attend Ole Miss for less money than the Tennessee schools.  No brainer. Plus, my Dad was an Ole Miss grad and I had been coming to football and basketball games all my life.  I was familiar with the school.  It was a good decision. 

Brown:  How did you meet your husband Bruce?  Tell us about your children Catherine and Mark.  

Robinson:  It’s a great (at least I think so) story how I met Bruce!  I came to Ole Miss Freshman Pre-College in June 1972 (now it’s called orientation).  It was a weeklong event where you stayed in the dorms, registered for classes, etc.  If you did not have a roommate for the week, then the girl next to you in line was your roommate for the week.  The girl next to me was from New Albany, MS.   We got along great.  We had a couple of free evenings.  She mentioned that she knew a guy from her high school who was attending summer school at Ole Miss to lighten his freshman class load.  This boy had his own CAR and could take us out to eat! Well, I had my own car too.  I had upgraded from a 1963 Plymouth Valiant to a 1967 Plymouth Valiant, yet another retired drugstore delivery car, but this one had automatic transmission! No more stuck gears.  But if this boy was cute, then of course get in touch with him and we will all go out to eat.   He picked us up in the lobby of New Dorm (later named Crosby Hall).  Yeah, he was cute.  We dated freshman year and on and off for seven more years.  Yeah, I married him.  Yeah, we are about to celebrate our 41st anniversary.  

Loye Costner, Rachel, Bruce, Mickey Costner – Wedding Day!

Catherine is our oldest. She is an Ole Miss grad with her Masters in Accountancy and is a CPA.  She is currently the Accountant for Journalism Instruction on campus.

Mark is our youngest.  He graduated from UMMC with a BSN.  He is a nurse at North Mississippi Regional Center.  Mark and his wife, Megan, have our three grandchildren.

Standing: Rachel, granddaughter Reese, and son Mark
Seated: Rachel’s daughter Catherine and father, Loye Costner on the occasion of his 92nd birthday

Camping trip with granddaughters Reese and Riley, and grandson Rowan at David Crockett State Park in Tennessee

Brown:  Where did you work before accepting the position at Ole Miss?

Robinson:  All through pharmacy school I told my Dad not to save a place for me in his store, I was not coming back to Jackson, TN.  Well, he did not save me a fulltime spot, but I did come back to Jackson.  I spent my first year out of school as a relief pharmacist. I worked one day a week in Brownsville, TN, another in Trenton, TN, two days a week for my Dad in his store and every other weekend at another pharmacy in Jackson, TN. Bruce and I married in 1979 and I moved to Mississippi.  I was Director of Pharmacy at two small north Mississippi hospitals: North Panola in Sardis, MS and Quitman County in Marks, MS.  Sadly, both hospitals have closed.  

Brown:  Tell us how/when your career at Ole Miss began.  Please talk about the interview process.  With whom did you interview?  Who hired you?  

Robinson:  My hiring at Ole Miss is a good story too!   I was working as the Director of Pharmacy at Quitman County Hospital for a contract service company.  The company was terminating the contract with the hospital (lack of payment from the hospital) and I had a noncompete clause where I could not work for the hospital upon the termination of the contract.  So, I was about to be unemployed.   My relief pharmacist was a graduate student in Pharmaceutics.  Dr. Mickey Smith needed a pharmacist for a research project he was developing called MUST (Medication Use STudies).  It was a cutting-edge database and search engine, seriously ahead of its time! Before Google and Bing! Dr. Smith asked my relief pharmacist if he would be interested in the job.  My relief pharmacist was not able to devote time to the job with his responsibilities in Pharmaceutics.  But he mentioned that his boss at Quitman County was about to be in need of a job.  She might be interested.   Dr. Smith asked who is this pharmacist?  Well, turns out I had worked as a student worker for Dr. Smith while in Pharmacy School, so he remembered me.  Dr. Smith and I talked, and he hired me for MUST.  

Brown:  What positions did you hold?  What were your responsibilities?

Robinson:  While working with the MUST project, Dr. Alan (Skip) Jones asked Dr. Smith if I could help with some teaching responsibilities since I had been a preceptor in my former hospitals and had experience teaching pharmacy students.  Dr. Smith agreed and I started doing some classroom teaching. With permission, I began taking classes towards my PharmD. I completed my PharmD and was later hired in the Pharmacy Practice Department. Dr. Tom Brown was my vice-chair.  Dr. Brown was the best boss. I learned so much from him: about teaching, writing, research, the list is endless. He was a fantastic mentor and still is a great resource and friend. While in Pharmacy Practice, I taught a Geriatrics Elective, several of our Problem-Based Learning courses, and several of our Skills Lab courses, plus I was in charge of our Drug Information Center.

Rachel and Tom at her retirement party

Brown:  I know you were the Faculty Advisor for Kappa Epsilon (KE), a professional pharmacy fraternity, for a number of years.  Tell us about this.  

Robinson:  Being a Faculty Advisor with KE was very rewarding. It gave me an opportunity to interact with the students in a non-classroom setting. Our group of women primarily focused on service projects for the Ole Miss and Oxford community.  We held poison prevention programs at local elementary schools, volunteered at the Veterans Home, and provided care packages for the Baptist Cancer Center to name a few.  I learned that there was so much talent with this group.  They were leaders.   

Brown:  How long did you work at Ole Miss?  

Robinson:  I started working on campus in July 1990 and retired in June 2017, 27 years.  But I had been a preceptor for the Pharmacy School for about eight years before coming to campus. 

Rachel at her retirement party in 2017

Memory table at Rachel’s retirement party

Brown:  If you could start your career over, what would you do differently?

Robinson:  What would I do differently? I would have followed Dr. Smith’s advice when I graduated from Pharmacy in 1978 and applied for grad school in Pharmacy Administration.  He tried to get me to apply.  At the time, I was tired of school and wanted to get out and make some money!  I don’t regret my decisions, but it might have been fun to see where a Pharm Ad career would have gone.

Brown:  What’s the best advice you ever received?

Robinson:  Best advice? How to pay off your mortgage sooner by just adding a few dollars a month to your payment. It’s amazing how much money you save and how many years you can knock off your loan.  We did this and it was the best advice we ever received. 

Brown:  What do you consider your greatest accomplishment to date?

Robinson:  This sounds so cliché, but I’m proud of my children.  Both have grown into mature, well-rounded, productive members of society.  What more can you ask of your children?

Brown:  What was your favorite age?  

Robinson:  Honestly, I don’t have a favorite age.  I try to find joy every day.   But as I get older, I find this old saying to be true, “Sometimes my brain writes checks that my body cannot cash.”  Mentally I think I’m still 30-something, but my body says, oh no you are not.

Brown:  If you could spend a whole year doing anything you wanted, what would you do?

Robinson:  I’m actually doing this right now. Retirement has given me time for hobbies, gym time, and camping.  While working full time, I never could squeeze enough time for activities and now that I have the time, I love it.  My new “job” is getting up and spending time at the gym then gardening, sewing, quilting, refurbishing antique furniture, and camping trips in our 1968 Airstream.  We spent two years restoring the vintage camper. We love camping and now our son has a camper so we occasionally camp alongside them with the guards.

 

Airstream – Before

Airstream — After

1968 Airstream – Finished Project

Brown:  What are the most useful skills you have?

Robinson:  My most useful skills are being able to fix minor breaks and problems that occur at the house without having to call a repair person. Changing a light switch, installing a toilet handle, repairing a loose cabinet door, painting a room, installing tile, and so on.  Fun and useful too.  I thank my grandfather for teaching me the difference between a Phillips screwdriver and a flat head screwdriver!

Brown:  What skills do you think everyone should have?

Robinson:  Everyone should be able to cook a simple meal, know how to sort laundry and use a washing machine, and sew on a button!

Brown:  What’s the best gadget/thing you own?

Robinson:  Ok so don’t laugh at this one, my most useful gadget/thing is our air compressor.  It is the most useful tool ever made.  From filling up air in a tire to pumping up basketballs to blowing dirt from wicker furniture to drying wet objects quickly, to blowing dust from furniture projects to getting lint out of my sewing machine and sewing serger.  Do you see it?  The possibilities are numerous. 

Brown:  What is your favorite quote or expression?

Robinson:  Never teach a pig to sing.  It annoys the pig and wastes your time. 

Brown:  Tell us about your favorite vacation.  

Robinson:  My favorite vacation was a trip to San Francisco when the kids were 10 and 12.  The kids were the right age, old enough to appreciate the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and all the other attractions.  And old enough with enough energy to visit almost every attraction we could squeeze in for six days. 

Brown:  What is something that you always travel with?

Robinson:  I always travel with a tumbler of ice water, not just cold water, but ice cubes in the tumbler and a thermos of coffee.  Must-haves. 

Brown:  What would your family and friends say is your best trait?

Robinson:  Organizational skills. I’m pretty good at taking a jumbled mess and putting it into some form of organized logic.   

Brown:  What are 3 words that you would use to describe yourself?

Robinson:  Impatient, witty, efficient 

Brown:  What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?

Robinson:  I’m who I am not so much from events but my upbringing.  Both my mom and dad let me try—and sometimes fail—at things. They said NO to dangerous things, but they gave me the independence to try things and if I failed, to learn from my failures. I appreciate them giving me choices and not saying no to everything.  I truly believe that sometimes failing at something is the best teaching method.  

Brown:  Was there a transformative moment in your life?

Robinson:  I started out in prepharmacy.  I enjoyed my classes, but I had second thoughts about my major thinking that maybe I chose pharmacy only because it was what I knew and where I was comfortable.  I changed my major to forensic medicine.  The TV show Quincy was popular at that time and I liked science so why not change to forensic medicine.   One of the forensic classes required a field trip to the Memphis morgue.  At the morgue, they showed us a “John Doe” body that had been pulled from the Mississippi River.   Viewing that body—it was not a pretty sight or smell—was a transformative moment for me.  I completed the semester and changed back to the pharmacy. 

Brown:  What makes you really angry?

Robinson:  This sounds petty, it is I know, but shoppers who take up the center of the aisle with their shopping cart where no one else can get around either side. And they are oblivious to other shoppers. Yep, I told you, I’m impatient. 

Brown:  What “old person” habits do you have?

Robinson:  This is the funniest question!  My old person habits are:

  1. I like to sit in the same seat at church on Sundays; it is not worshiping if I’m in a different spot. Ha!
  2. I like the same spot in yoga and Pilates at the Y (same as above).
  3. I get up early.
  4. I still have a landline phone and prefer it when conducting business.
  5. I turn down the volume of the car radio when I get in traffic. 

Brown:  What do you do to improve your mood when you are in a bad mood?

Robinson:  I get out of bad moods by starting a new project.  When I have something new to do, finishing it gives me a big boost.  During the initial COVID “lockdown” (which definitely put me in a bad mood) I refinished our kids’ Radio Flyer red wagon.  It was a rust bucket and now it looks almost new.  I removed all the rust, sanded, primed, repainted, and found new decals from a vendor on Etsy. Project done—better mood. 

Radio Flyer red wagon – BEFORE

Radio Flyer red wagon – AFTER

Brown:  What makes you lose track of time?

Robinson:  Sewing makes me lose track of time.  I’ll start sewing either a garment or a quilt and next thing you know three hours are gone!

 

Brown:  What are you passionate about?

Robinson:  I’m passionate about trying to see the positive in life. There is so much negative “everything” these days.   Try to focus on the good.  It makes life so much better. 

 

Brown:  Which moment of your life do you wish you had on video?

Robinson:  I wish I had our wedding on video. Back in 1979 video was not “a thing.” We have a great photo album, but I wish there was a video.

 

Brown:  Describe your perfect day.

Robinson:  My absolute perfect day is sitting under the beach umbrella in Destin, FL with a good book and smelling the clean crisp saltwater spray in the breeze, watching the gulls scamper about, and listening to the waves splash.  Perfection!

Brown:  Tell us something about yourself that not many people may know.  

Robinson:  This is something that Bruce didn’t know about me until about 30 years into our marriage.  He never knew that while in high school I tutored reading for third- grade children who were behind with their reading skills.

Brown:  Looking back on your life, what have you done that has given you the most satisfaction?

Robinson:  Having good friends gives me a lot of satisfaction.   I had so many close work friends. And even in my retirement, we are still close.  We manage to squeeze (pre-COVID) in lunch dates fairly often.  And I’ve made a whole new set of friends in retirement. I enjoy people. I like to talk and laugh with people.  

Brown:  Do you have hobbies?

Robinson:  Oh my gosh, do I have hobbies? Yes, I do.  I’m sort of a hobby butterfly.  I flit from hobby to hobby.  I sew.  I quilt. I do cross-stitch. I paint (not just rooms) but small works of mostly flowers. I have a garden.  I make jams, can vegetables, and freeze food from our garden. Refinish old pieces of furniture. I had a booth at an antique mall for a few years.  We camp. We ride bikes. I read. I didn’t think I would like a Kindle; I liked the “feel” of a book, but now my Kindle is my go-to. But I always manage to come back to sewing, something about the sound/hum of the machine is relaxing, and completing a garment or quilt is rewarding.  I’ve been sewing since I was ten years old.

Brown:  What has been your routine since retirement?

Robinson:  I have not been bored in retirement.  I get this question a lot, “What are you doing with your time?”  Well, what am I not doing?  My new “job” is getting up and going to the gym most days of the week.  Then back home to whatever project is in the works at the time.  I absolutely love retirement.  I miss my students tremendously, but not enough to go back!

Brown:  What story do you want people to tell about you?  What impact will you leave behind?

Robinson:  I suppose I want people, especially my former students, to know that I loved all of them.  It was like having a room of 100 of your own children without having the pay their tuition. What a deal.  I enjoyed teaching.  I enjoyed the energy and enthusiasm of the students.  I always told them that I had a vested interest in them because one day they might be my pharmacist and I wanted them to be the best. Well, guess what?  Two former students are now my pharmacists, and I am proud to call them my pharmacists. 

I hope I leave behind a group of pharmacists who care about their patients. 


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy. For questions or comments, email her at bbrown@olemiss.edu.