Clara Mae Scott Robinson, of Montclair, died on Tuesday, May 16, 2023. She was 83.
Born on May 27, 1939, in Cumberland, Virginia, she was the third child and eldest daughter of Lucy James Scott and Elwood Scott.
Her family owned a 13-acre tobacco farm in Cumberland, where she was responsible for fixing the family meals and keeping the house tidy and the clothes clean while the rest of the children worked on the farm. Perhaps this is where she developed her love of cooking and caring selflessly for others. She came from a deeply religious family and often sought prayer.
Ms. Robinson grew up in segregated Virginia and attended a small two-room school with 20 kids. She graduated from Luther Jackson High School in Cumberland in 1958 and enrolled in Virginia State College, where she majored in elementary education intending to become a teacher. But family needs called her away from school and she relocated to Montclair, New Jersey, to help care for her aunt. She resided in Montclair for the rest of her life.
Ms. Robinson had a lifelong commitment to education. From 1958 to 2020, she attended college and completed certificate and professional development programs to enhance her educational and career goals.
When she first arrived up North, she spent time as a mother’s helper – a job she’d also held as a young girl in Richmond. She spent numerous years working for a family, caring for their daughter with special needs. She also became a certified home health aide.
In Montclair, she met William H. Robinson Jr., a young veteran whose family lived across the street from her aunt. Clara and William married in September 1967, and though their paths separated, they remained friends.
Her pride and joy was their son, William III, to whom she remained devoted for the rest of her life. Ms. Robinson was a second mother and trusted adviser to many of William’s friends, opening her home when they needed respite.
She loved to cook and so she pursued a career in food service. In 1968, she began working at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Montclair, first as a dietary aide, then certified dietitian, food service supervisor and ultimately food service manager. After St. Vincent’s closed, she transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson as an assistant food service manager until her retirement in 1993.
But Ms. Robinson was not one to sit idle. She loved to stay busy and work with people. She enrolled in the University of Miami certification program, receiving a diploma in hotel restaurant management.
In 1994, she began her tenure at Deron School in Montclair, a private school that serves children with special needs. She began as a teacher’s assistant and food service coordinator, retiring in 2020 – after 26 years due to the COVID-19 pandemic – as food service director. No one in Ms. Robinson’s cafeteria went hungry; she diligently planned meals for the students, even setting aside some extras for those she knew needed extra nourishment. She trained students to work alongside her in the cafeteria as part of the school’s career education program.
In 2018, she was given the Ruth K. Newman Award for Excellence by the Deron School “in recognition of her outstanding contribution and dedication in providing educational services to children with special needs.”
She was a beloved teacher and co-worker to many. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, her friends sent video messages to celebrate her.
While working at Deron, Ms. Robinson took on a part-time job at luxury retailer Fortunoff in Wayne. She worked in the fine goods department, gifting customers with her keen knowledge of home goods and her gentle smile. She often joked to friends and family that she worked there solely for the discount as a way to support her love of high-end home goods and collectibles. Ms. Robinson’s collection of Lladro figurines is quite impressive and she had an assortment of place settings and matching linens for every family occasion – from Easter to Halloween to Christmas. But it was the longtime friends she made at Fortunoff that brightened her time there. She retired from Fortunoff in 2008 after the store closed.
Feeding her family and friends was Ms. Robinson’s love language. She was happiest in the kitchen, planning meals and making sure everyone was taken care of. Ms. Robinson’s homemade macaroni and cheese was beloved by many and she loved to bake desserts, especially cakes and pies (she was partial to key lime pie). She even taught a cooking class at Montclair’s Adult School for many years, spreading her kitchen know-how to novices.
Above all, it was her devotion to family that kept her going until the end. Ms. Robinson loved her son deeply, supporting all his endeavors. She immediately extended her open arms and heart to his new wife and delighted in her role as a grandma. She served as a part-time caregiver to her granddaughters, Taylor Alana and Nina Renée, watching them several days a week, picking them up from school and driving them to an assortment of activities over the years. She was one of their biggest cheerleaders and a constant presence, helping with homework, doing hair and preparing nightly dinners. Ever the spoiler, there were frequent trips to the mall and lots of sweet treats, as grandmas are known for. Theirs was a special bond that will never be forgotten.
Her family will be forever grateful to have spent one final Mother’s Day with her.
Ms. Robinson was predeceased by her siblings Willie, Roger and Marilyn.
Her loving presence will be greatly missed by her son, William H. Robinson III, and his wife, Christina; granddaughters Taylor and Nina; brother, Harold; former husband, William H. Robinson Jr., and his partner, Cheryl Woodruff; cousin Hester Lindsey; and many nieces, nephews and other relatives and friends.
The family had a private viewing. A memorial service will be held Wednesday, May 31, from 6-8 p.m. at Martin’s Home for Services, 48 Elm Street, Montclair, NJ. (973) 746-2158. Family and friends will be invited to give reflections.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in Ms. Robinson’s honor to Toni’s Kitchen.