Not many people showed up last month at Pearl Robinson’s funeral.
She was an only child, so her family was small. And there was just a tiny obituary after Robinson, a longtime Atlantic City resident, died at 87 in a Pleasantville nursing home.
People who knew her say Robinson was also small herself — “a petite lady,” as her friend of 56 years, Elva McGee, puts it.
Still, she and others say the list of everything small about “Sugar Pearl” stopped at her heart.
Robinson loved traveling, sometimes with McGee, and was such a geography buff that she kept a big, globe-style world map in her living room.
If anyone mentioned a country, Robinson could always spin her globe and point right to it, McGee says. She also liked to use that sharp memory to compete with friends on a favorite TV show.
“She never missed a geography question on ‘Jeopardy!’” McGee marvels.
When she was young, Robinson was a popular waitress at an Atlantic City landmark, the late Club Harlem. But her main career was at Spencer Gifts, which started out in Atlantic City but gradually moved out to the mainland and is now in Egg Harbor Township. She was executive secretary to the company president, Gene Brog of Margate, for 30 years.
“She was not only a great, great secretary — she was a friend, and almost a member of our family,” says Brog, 84. “We loved her.”
His son, Steve Brog, a lawyer based in Linwood, can explain just how close she was to his family.
“She held me as a baby,” he says, “and she came to my wedding.”
Steve Brog says there’s even a well-known — if not well-loved — local landmark with roots tracing back to Robinson. For a lot of her years at Spencer, her office was in the company’s Black Horse Pike headquarters on the outer edge of Atlantic City, where Hansen’s Bus World is today.
Robinson used to take a bus in and out of the city for work, and had to cross that high-speed highway to get to her bus home. So she lobbied for a break in the highway’s divider — and a traffic light with a button for pedestrians to push to stop traffic and walk across the road safely.
At one point, Spencer was a big operation, so the highway crossing had lots of users. But now, hardly anyone walks across the road except for the occasional Bus World customer — which makes drivers’ rare stops at that light all the more frustrating.
“I’m sure everyone wonders, ‘Why is this (light) here?’” Brog says. “And Pearl is the reason.”
McGee, Pearl’s friend, says that was her style: If she saw a problem, she stood up and did what it took to fix it.
Gene Brog, Robinson’s old boss, agrees, admiringly, that she was no pushover.
“She was quite independent,” he says. “Pearl meant business.”
A Life Lived appears Tuesday and Saturday.
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