By Henry Fitzgerald
BOCA RATON — Sylvia Robinson was always polite and considerate of others. After all, it was the only way for a proper lady to act. She made sure to dress impeccably and always, always put her best face forward.
Being a lady was important to her right up until her death of natural causes on Oct. 11. The Pittsburgh native, philanthropist and longtime Boca Raton resident was 89.
“Lots of people remember her as a lady in the best sense of the word,” said her daughter, Carol Robinson.
Mrs. Robinson thought it was important to give back to the community, most notably early on in the Pittsburgh area, and she and her husband, Donald, pursued their philanthropic interests “together and individually,” Carol Robinson said.
Mrs. Robinson in 1975 founded the American Friends of Israel War Disabled, which brings disabled Israeli war veterans to the United States for two weeks to show appreciation for their sacrifices, Carol Robinson said.
Mrs. Robinson, in a recorded interview in 1996 stored with the ULS Digital Collections at the University of Pittsburgh, detailed how she started the program after a trip to Geneva, Switzerland. There, she heard about a group that sponsored trips to Geneva for Israeli war veterans.
“I said to Don, ‘You know, if they can do it in Geneva with 5,000 Jews — we have 40,000 here in Pittsburgh — why can’t we do it here in Pittsburgh?’
“I think this is the thing that I’m proudest of because this is something that I thought up, that I started in the United States,” Mrs. Robinson said of the program, which initially expanded to other cities such as Chicago and Washington.
“When she passed away, we received so many cards and letters telling me about her relationships with families and veterans,” Carol Robinson said. “That’s one of her legacies. Right up until the end she was thinking about how she could help others.”
Donald and Sylvia Robinson, who with their two children had always enjoyed South Florida during their many vacations, bought a condo in the Stratford Arms in 1981, Carol Robinson said.
The Robinsons then donated to Boca Helping Hands, Boca Raton Regional Hospital and the Wick Theatre, where Mrs. Robinson also scratched a long-existing itch for drama.
Greg Hazle, Boca Helping Hands executive director, said that “she and her husband were significant contributors to our feeding program over the last eight years.”
Despite her appreciation for Boca Raton, Mrs. Robinson maintained her passion for Pittsburgh. She and a friend about a decade ago started the Tuesday Lunch Bunch, a group of Pittsburgh natives who met every week for lunch, said Carol Robinson.
“Those lunches sometimes lasted for hours,” she said. “That camaraderie was very special to my mother and to the others.”
Donald Robinson, her husband of 69 years, preceded Mrs. Robinson in death in 2017. They met in 1947 when Mr. Robinson, on leave from the U.S. Navy, crashed a wedding where Mrs. Robinson was a guest.
“That uniform swept my mother off her feet,” Carol Robinson said.
In 1961 he was a founder and president of White Cross discount drug stores, which grew to 163 locations before later merging into Revco Drug stores in 1972.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Robinson is survived by a son, Stephen Robinson; three grandchildren, Abigail Foster, Leslie Markel and Richard Markel, and three great-grandchildren, Beatrice, William and Finnley.
A funeral service was held at Temple Beth El Mausoleum in Boca Raton on Oct. 14.
Contributions may be made to The Jewish Association on Aging at jaapgh.networkforgood.com or Jewish Family and Community Services at jfcspgh.org.