Community mourns the loss of Tom Robinson

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From The Carrboro Citizen, February 25, 2010

Kirk Ross
Staff Writer

CARRBORO — For four decades, Tom Robinson sold seafood, much of that time out of a little white concrete block shop in downtown Carrboro. While he’s sure to be remembered for that, mostly he’ll be remembered for being Tom Robinson — a sharp-witted, sometimes-acerbic, honest and forthright individual. He was his own man until the end.

Robinson died Friday at UNC Hospitals from pneumonia, which resulted from H1N1. He was 58 years old.

Anyone who knew Tom will tell you that he ran at a slightly higher RPM than the rest of us. Anyone who worked for him can relate how particular he was about the way things should be done.

He was, maybe, a little eccentric. He collected things. He raced pigeons. You read that right.

Many of his customers became friends.

Kay Lund and her husband, Mark Price, were in that group. The couple began buying their fish from Robinson in 1982 when he operated out of an outdoor market on the corner of Church and Rosemary streets in Chapel Hill.

Lund said the visit to the seafood shop to provision the family oyster roasts became a tradition, and after Tom moved to Carrboro he became a regular at their Christmas Eve socials.

“He’d be the first person to show up, coming over right after closing up in the afternoon for a single-malt,” she said. “Christmas Eve won’t be the same without him. I just want to say to him, ‘Thanks for all the oysters.’”
The Lantern restaurant’s Andrea Reusing said Robinson was a straight-shooter with a reputation for fairness with both fishermen and the people who bought his wares. “In the seafood business, you don’t always get that,” she said.

“He was very honest about what his stake was in something, both with his customers and the people he bought fish from.”

Reusing said that over the years, as she got to know him, she saw that same, sometimes-blunt honesty many times.

“You would never not know where Tom stood on something,” she said.

Like a lot of his customers, Reusing hopes to see the business continue, and not just because of the seafood it supplies.

“It’s one of those rare places where you’ll see an African-American grandmother, a woman from Japan and a man from Spain all in the same room at once,” she said. “We know we live in a diverse community, but you don’t see it in many places like that. The shop is a huge gift to the community, and I hope we can hold onto it.”

Robinson’s longtime companion Kay Hamrick said that thought has been in her heart as well. She’s talked it over with the shop’s employees and the many friends, personal and professional, who have offered condolences.

“The shop is still in operation, although with a lot less selection right now,” she said.

Robinson is gone, but keeping the network of fishermen and suppliers connected to the legion of loyal customers seems the only right thing to do.

“We’re going to try to keep it open,” Hamrick said.

A memorial service for Tom Robinson has been scheduled for Sunday, March 7 at Walkers Funeral Home.

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