Putting family first for 110 years

Birthday: Woman celebrates a milestone with the granddaughters she helped raise.

September 02, 2000|By Tom Gutting | Tom Gutting,SUN STAFF

About 30 years ago, having put in her time as a housewife and buried a husband, and looking forward to quietly enjoying her 80s, Adirana Robinson became a mother again.

Her daughter, Carrie, had suffered a stroke that paralyzed her left side, and Robinson, though living on a fixed income, helped raise the single mother's three daughters.

Relatives, who helped mark Robinson's 110th birthday yesterday at the Lorien Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Northeast Baltimore, said that typified Robinson's dedication to her family.

Yesterday, with dozens of Lorien staff, fellow residents and about a half-dozen relatives, Robinson's ear-to-ear grin - she doesn't talk much anymore - showed just how important family is to her.

"Family first," said Lerra Cunningham, 35, one of Robinson's three grandchildren. "She pretty much raised me in the absence of my mother. Her wisdom contributed a lot to sustaining the values that I have."

"She just kept the family together," said granddaughter Amber McCaskill, 33. "She showed you how to get by, how to survive, no matter what happened. It was such an encouragement, and still is."

The youngest of 12 born to January and Adirana Gibson, Robinson moved to Baltimore from Silver, S.C., as a young adult. Here, as a housewife and occasional nurse at local hospitals, she did what she could to help her family.

During the 1930s and 1940s, "Aunt Dumpy," as she was known, opened her home to nieces and nephews who migrated from the South looking for work. Like many in her generation, she and her husband, Clarence Robinson, gave them a place to stay until they found jobs and could move on.

Robinson's generosity meant a lot to her relatives, and it is a major reason they look after her so carefully, visiting her often at the nursing center, where she's lived since January 1999.

Dianne Miller, 38, visits her great-great aunt once a week.

"She's given a lot of little hints and tidbits on life," Miller said.

And until Robinson moved into Lorien, she and Miller would bake an apple pie together every week. "She loves sweets," Miller said, laughing. "She'll eat sweets before she eats dinner."

Yesterday, she had yellow sheet cake with white frosting. The words "Happy Birthday Adirana Robinson" substituted for candles.

Asked about reaching another milestone, Robinson said, "I like it all right. My, how time flies."

She admitted that she enjoyed the attention. President and Mrs. Clinton, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Martin O'Malley all sent letters of congratulations. She was featured Thursday by Willard Scott on NBC's "Today" show.

"It's been a long time since I've been this busy. But I ain't footing the bill," Robinson said, laughing.

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