The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Job finder finally retiring
BY SCOTT SHENK
THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Few think Shelby Robinson will really slow down now that she’s retiring after a long, distinguished career with the Virginia Employment Commission.
It took long enough for her to actually make the move toward retirement, said her son, Stevie Robinson, who orchestrated a surprise retirement party for her.
“I’ve been planning it for the past three years,” he said Saturday, laughing that she was supposed to retire back in 2009.
He and others finally managed to pull off the surprise party for Robinson on Saturday at Central Station in Fredericksburg.Robinson, who earlier this month retired from her post as assistant commissioner for workforce services at the employment commission, thought she was coming to judge a music talent contest.
Instead, she was greeted by a live band and about 50 friends and family members.
“This is special,” she said. “My thing is helping people. I guess they wanted to turn it on me for a change.”
During several decades working in the employment field, 38 with the VEC, she has garnered a reputation as a hard worker who knows how to put people in the right situation.
“If the workforce system had an engine, Shelby would be a HEMI hemi,” the U.S. Department of Labor’s Tobby Willis said in a statement. “Where others whine when faced with adversity, she elongates her stride and closes the distance on what was thought to be impossible.”
Though she is older now, Robinson hasn’t slowed since her early days as a single mother raising three sons while going to college and holding down a job.
The past few years, she has spent many of her waking hours tethered to a BlackBerry and working nights, weekends and holidays.
Her impact stretches back decades, though.
Since the 1970s, Robinson has helped thousands find work, whether it has been someone down and out or someone just starting out.
Xavier Richardson, executive vice president of Mary Washington Healthcare, is one of many people Robinson helped over several decades.
She hired him as an assistant in 1977, and before that helped him get an internship at the Fredericksburg Legal Aid Society when he was a young student at Princeton University.
But Robinson did more than help Richardson; she also guided his mother and sister in their careers.
Richardson’s mother was a class salutatorian at John J. Wright High School who lacked the resources to go to college and ended up doing domestic work in area homes. But Robinson helped her get a job with a local office and eventually the FBI, where she worked for 20 years.
“She was a great leader,” Xavier Richardson said. “She did things quietly and behind the scenes.”
He said her ability to show “passion and compassion” set an example for many she has worked with and helped over the years.
Robinson most recently has worked out of Richmond, but for years she worked out of the Fredericksburg VEC office, which she took over in 1988.
She worked locally before that as well, when she joined the VEC in the ’70s as the youth employment coordinator.
Robinson’s impact stretches beyond the Fredericksburg area.
During her career, she has established workforce programs throughout the state, many used as nationwide models.
In 2001, after the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks, then-Gov. Jim Gilmore asked her to start an emergency unemployment center to help the thousands who lost their jobs, according to a release from her family.
Now, though, Robinson will have to get used to a slower pace in retirement.
She said she wants to plant flowers in her yard and spend time with her six grandchildren.
But that’s not all.
She might start a faith-based workforce program. And she has already been asked to give speeches and has received a couple of job offers.
No matter what she does during her golden years, her son, Stevie, was glad he finally got a chance to celebrate her career.
“She did so much for others,” he said, “I had to do something for my mom.”
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436