Former BBB head Robinson dead at 77

Published on Monday, 20 January 2014 23:48 - Written by BRIAN PEARSON bpearson@tylerpaper.com

Kathleen “Kay” Robinson, who spent almost a quarter century stopping scoundrels and scams as head of the Better Business Bureau in Tyler, passed away Monday, according to a Stewart Family Funeral Home notice. She was 77.

Ms. Robinson signed on as president when the local BBB office was created in 1985. At the time of her retirement in 2009, the office boasted more than 1,800 members spread across 19 East Texas counties.

In a story about her retirement, Ms. Robinson said she has seen issues large and small in her BBB tenure.

One complaint that stood out, she said, was the woman who griped about the lack of curls atop her Dairy Queen ice cream. She also recalled the Athens rancher who believed the government used fertilizer as a mind-control weapon.

She joked at the time of her retirement that her staff “knows how to do everything” and that she had worked herself out of a job.

Ms. Robinson, a Peoria, Ill., native, moved to Dallas with her family after grade school.

She earned what she called a “secretarial services degree” from the University of Oklahoma in 1956.

She moved with her first husband, an insurance salesman, about 35 years ago to Tyler, where she took a jewelry job.

She then worked for a local office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts before joining the Texas Sen. Peyton McKnight staff.

A friend told her the BBB was launching a Tyler office and encouraged her to apply, and she scored the job as president.

Recruitment and community education consumed much of her time in the beginning.

Businesses go through intensive scrutiny before being allowed to call themselves a BBB member. The BBB also mediates conflicts between businesses and customers and spotlights shady businesses, listing them in monthly newsletters when they fail to work with the BBB regarding customer complaints.

“There have been some ringers,” Ms. Robinson said in a 2009 interview when asked about unusual cases she had seen.

In addition to the complaint about Dairy Queen and the Athens rancher claiming the government fertilized grass with a mind-control substance, passed on to consumers through milk, another unusual case involved a woman who slipped and fell beneath a casket during a funeral service, she recalled.

But not all cases came with amusement. She remembered a Tyler merchant who came to her office, swatted everything off her desk and threatened to kill her. The man later was sent to prison on charges of tracking down and killing his estranged girlfriend.

Ms. Robinson saw scammers become more clever and creative over the years, turning to the Internet to find victims.

At Ms. Robinson’s retirement, Henry Bell, chief operating officer of the Tyler Chamber of Commerce, called her the Tom Landry of the Tyler BBB. Like Landry was for so many years to the Dallas Cowboys, Ms. Robinson had been the only coach the Tyler BBB had ever known.

“She was very instrumental in getting the BBB started,” Bell said Monday. “She had a mission for it and was always willing to put in extra effort to help our community.”

Ms. Robinson passed the mantle to Mechele Agbayani Mills, who has led the BBB ever since.

“Although her health had been declining, her passing comes as a shock to all of us,” Ms. Mills said. “She was a great leader and led a good life.

“I’m so grateful to her for leaving me with a great BBB office and the best staff you could ask for.  I only had the pleasure of knowing her for a few years, but I think you will all agree when I say she was a feisty, fiery redhead who was always warm and fun to be around.”