In one of my favorite Merle Haggard songs, “Okie From Muskogee,” Haggard writes about the local college saying “Football’s still the roughest thing on campus and the kids there still respect the college dean.”
Herbert Robinson was the first dean of what was then Gainesville Junior College. They didn’t have football, but I am quite confident the kids truly respected the college dean.
Well, they’re not exactly kids anymore. The first students at Gainesville Junior are now in their 60s. A good number of them drove over to Dawsonville a few days ago to pay their respects to Robinson, who passed away at the age of 95.
Just a couple of years after he returned from service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, he was appointed principal of Dawson County High School, a post he held for the next 18 years.
He started as the teacher and principal of the one-room Amicalola School in 1935. He knew what an education could mean and wanted the same for the children of this poor, rural county.
For more than 70 years, he taught a Sunday school class that bears his name. Think about it; when the class was formed, FDR was president and electricity was new to Dawson County.
In my work as a reporter, Robinson became a great source of verification of facts. His mind was razor-sharp and he had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of our region.
He had a melodic baritone voice with a Southern lilt to it. Hearing him speak was like listening to music.
“Hello Bubba,” he would say whenever I called, referring to my radio moniker of years earlier.
I would often present him with a scenario from yesteryear and ask him to help me verify its validity.
“Well,” he would often say, “you’re very close.” Then he would launch into a story -- the correct version.
From time to time, I would call him seeking a comment on an obituary story. One of my favorites involved George Dunagan, the father of Georgia’s first lady, Sandra Dunagan Deal.
After a fire destroyed one of the school buildings in Dawsonville in the 1960s, George Dunagan taught classes for the remainder of the year in a school bus parked on the site.
Robinson said Dunagan never complained about the makeshift classroom in the aftermath of the fire.
"He just did his duty," Robinson said.
But he had a way of telling the story that I could visualize the school bus turned classroom and it made me respect both the teacher and the man who shared the story.
Robinson used his gifts of thoughtful words and learning to open the eyes of students in a community where a high school education was a rarity at the time. His work at Gainesville Junior College brought the once unreachable goal of a college education to an even wider group of students.
One of his sons told me that in his final days in the hospital, he asked for a copy of The Times to read my column. His wife said he seldom missed my Sunday column. That’s high praise.
Besides a Sunday school class, Herbert Robinson has an elementary school and a room at Lanier Technical College’s Dawsonville campus named for him. That’s praise well deserved.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.