After fifty years, Robin Brown shows no signs of slowing down.
by Brandon Wolf
Photo by Brandon Wolf
Robin Brown was born on April 12, 1963, near Detroit. Fifty years later, on the eve of her birthday, she was named the 2013 Houston Female Pride Marshal. “It was the best birthday present I could possibly have had,” she says.
Born in the early spring, Brown was named for Michigan’s famous robins. “Robins are considered the first sign of spring,” she says with a warm smile. The name fits her well. Like her namesakes, Brown is cheery, hard-working, and colorful.
Athletic and Involved
Brown’s parents divorced when she was eight, and although the breakup affected her, it made her stronger. She lived with her mother, who was young and very beautiful. “She was a department store ‘demo girl,’ then sold waterbeds, and eventually worked her way up to VP at a brokerage house,” Brown says.
Despite the emotional effect of the divorce, Brown still remembers a happy school life—living in the same geographical area and attending elementary, junior high, and high school with the same group of friends. At the time, she thought the school was big—with 230 in her graduating class. But looking back, she says it seems small.
Brown was athletic—playing golf and junior varsity basketball. On a dare, she tried out for the high school drill team, and to her surprise she secured a position. The girls wore green sequin drill outfits, accessorized by white leather boots, white gloves, and white cowboy hats. The razzle-dazzle uniforms were typical for the type of drill team they were—high kickers.
The drill team days ended when she was hit by a negligent driver while riding her bike one evening. Brown remembers being propelled through the air, hitting the pavement, hearing the sound of squealing car tires, and seeing those tires stop just feet from her limp body. “I was carried to a nearby yard to await an ambulance,” she remembers. “Believe it or not, that’s when the lawn sprinklers decided to come on.” Brown recovered, but could no longer execute the high kicks.
At school, Brown took photos for the yearbook. She was president of the school’s French club, and won election as class treasurer. When she graduated, she was given the fitting honor of being named “Most Spirited.”
During her school years, at the age of fourteen, she also took up a job in her stepfather’s golf shop. She began by sweeping floors, but it wasn’t long before she proved her ability to sell shoes. She quickly moved on to becoming the most successful sales clerk for golf clubs, with lots of regular customers, and nice sales commissions for her savings account.
The Grandfather Effect
Brown learned self-assurance early on. Both of her grandfathers were unique and creative, and mentored her. They both ended up working in the auto industry—one for General Motors and one for Ford. “I’ve always gotten great discounts on cars,” Brown laughs.
Her paternal grandfather was Roy Brown, the man who invented the Edsel. Despite the fact that the car became synonymous with failure, her grandfather was proud of the design he created. “And he lived to see it become one of the most iconic cars ever built, selling for over $100,000 these days to collectors.” When her grandfather died earlier this year, a relative texted Brown, “Your grandfather is trending on Yahoo!” (he was a headline item).
Her grandfather Brown also designed the Mercury “concept car” that became the Batmobile on TV. “The producers called and said they needed a Batmobile in one month. All Ford could do was take the futuristic-looking car and put Bat-markings all over it.”
Robin’s maternal grandfather was King Gates. “He was a Mensa, and graduated from college at age sixteen,” she says. He was also a child actor who appeared in more than fifty of the famous “Our Gang” movie serials of the 1920s and ’30s. “His mother was a secretary at Universal Studios,” says Brown.
College Days and Making Love ‘Somewhere in Time’
Brown studied hotel management through Michigan State University, and earned her bachelor’s degree. She says college was “great, but a busy blur.”
For her internship, she applied to the world-famous Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinaw Island, the popular resort destination that bans all vehicles except for horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. She was accepted, but turned down the offer to work at the island’s lesser-known Murray Hotel.
“The Grand Hotel position was too limiting,” Brown says. “At the Murray, I was allowed to experience everything—cleaning rooms, waiting tables, bartending, and working the front desk.” Halfway through the summer, she was promoted to night supervisor.
The romantic cult classic Somewhere in Time was filmed on the island the summer before, so it was the buzz of the summer that Brown spent there. Although she had been attracted to other women for years, she found her first Sapphic experience on the enchanted isle that summer.
A Stellar Professional Life
Brown went on to work for the historic Pontchartrain Hotel in Detroit for four years. It was a rare five-star hotel, and she loved the atmosphere. Asked what the secret to achieving excellent customer service is in such a demanding industry, Brown says, “You stop, you don’t react, and you listen.” It’s a formula that has worked for her when organizing volunteers, too.
Brown’s abilities were quickly noticed. In 1984, she was courted by Sonesta Hotels to work for them in Fort Myers, Florida. Soon after, she was made a national sales manager for thirteen of their facilities.
Bell South wooed her to Atlanta in 1988. And when the company bought Houston Cellular, she found herself heading for Texas. Brown says she loves Houston. “It’s a great big small town.”
Brown continued to be in demand by hiring managers who were aware of her skills. Since moving to Houston, she has also been employed by Automated Data Processing (ADP) and CSI Healthcare IT.
The Biggest Challenge of Her Life
Brown currently works for the Cerner Corporation, a medical software company that brings in nearly four billion dollars in revenue annually. One of their largest ventures is the automation of medical records, which the U.S. government has mandated healthcare providers to achieve by the end of 2014.
As the executive director of consulting, Brown works with strategy and planning. Cerner implements systems, trains employees, and provides audit services. The company stresses “accountable health care.”
Their systems can monitor the performance of physicians and staff members, making sure they are providing adequate care and promoting wellness. They can also help consumers lower their insurance rates with good health practices such as exercise and improved diet. The company developed a system to monitor the onset of sepsis and has nearly eliminated this number-one killer of hospital patients.
Brown’s political involvement began in Houston when she joined the local chapter of the Human Rights Campaign and worked on their fundraising galas for years. Her efforts earned her a seat next to singer Cyndi Lauper at the 2009 Obama inauguration.
For the last three years, she has raised money for the Victory Fund. In the 2012 elections, 180 LGBT candidates were endorsed at the national, state, and local levels, and a record 124 were elected. One of the sweetest victories was Tammy Baldwin’s rise to the U.S. Senate. “I was standing next to Mayor Parker at Hughes Hangar on election night,” says Brown. “It was exciting to watch as she shared tweets with Tammy.”
Brown has also been a volunteer for the Uncommon Legacy Golf Tournament. In 2011, she organized the Victory Fund’s 2011 Family Picnic in Cherryhurst Park during Pride Month. The event attracted 160 people. Future picnics are not on her agenda, but she says with a grin, “I’ll be glad to show someone else everything that has to be done!”
Riding Down Westheimer
Brown got the news that she was the 2013 Female Pride Marshal while celebrating her fiftieth birthday in a resort near Cancun with thirty friends. She regretted missing the announcement party, but all of her vacation reservations had been made before the date of the celebration was announced.
“I was partying with my friends when last year’s male marshal Nick Brines texted me the news,” Brown relates. “The whole place broke into applause, and people I didn’t even know came up to congratulate me.” She admits that she broke into tears when the news came. “It’s the ultimate recognition by the community—real icing on the cake, after twenty years of activism.”
Riding in the Pride parade isn’t totally new to Brown. When her friend Fiona Dawson was marshal in 2009, Brown was riding in the passenger seat of that convertible. “The driver of the car fainted from heat stroke,” she remembers. With typical “get it done” leadership, Brown took over the wheel for the rest of the ride.
Looking back on her first fifty years, Brown sums up her life as “pluralistic.” “I was put here to bring diverse groups of people together to accomplish things. But I think I need to slow down,” she says. “I’ve been having way too much fun.”
One can’t help but see that Brown will never stop doing either.