Community advocate loses cancer battle

Published 8:54 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Evelyne Del Billingslea | Contributed

Evelyne Del Billingslea | Contributed


A long-time community advocate and volunteer, Evelyne Robeson, died this week from complications related to throat cancer.

Robeson was a Washington native: she went to Mother of Mercy and became a graduate of the still-segregated P.S. Jones High School before going on to North Carolina Central University. When she moved to New York after graduation, she was hired as an administrative assistant by Bankers Trust Company, which later would become Deutsche Bank as Robeson worked her way up the corporate ladder to retire as an executive financial officer. She, and her high school sweetheart-turned-husband Frederick, would move from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Uniondale, Long Island, and raise four children there.

But it was when the couple moved back to Washington that her work began — the work of sharing her time and energy with the community.

“When they retired, they said they wanted to have a simpler life and give back to their community,” said Evelyne Del Billingslea, Robeson’s granddaughter.

Robeson gave back to her community tirelessly, serving as Chair of the Human Relations Council, St. John Housing Complex Board of Directors and Community Assistance for Rural Empowerment Board; and as board member of the Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center Foundation, County Economic Development Commission, Beaufort County Inter-Church Forum, Cooperative Extension Advisory Board, North Carolina Blind Center and Mid-East Commission Council on Aging.

According to Del Billingslea, it was Robeson’s work with educating and assisting teen mothers that was close to her heart.

“She would use her own resources, before there was funding, to help these young girls — to make sure they had childcare and got back in school,” Del Billingslea said. “That was a very big deal for her.”

Del Billingslea told some of Robeson’s stories of growing up in a very different era: of Robeson’s father, Sam Farris, a formidable figure who owned a candy store and walked freely through the town with a gun on his hip; of Robeson and one of her sisters being arrested when they inadvertently broke a Turnage Theater window near the segregated entrance, but were immediately released when officers found out they were Sam Farris’ children.

Del Billingslea said her favorite memories of Robeson were of accompanying her grandmother on business trips as a little girl.

“That allowed me to see my grandmother, not just cooking for us and being a grandmother, but allowed me to see her putting on a power suit and making things happen in the corporate world,” Del Billingslea said. “I would ride the train with her into the city — she taught me how to check into hotels, order room service and all that stuff.”

But for many of Robeson’s nieces, nephews and other grandchildren who grew up in northern states, it was Robeson’s introducing them to country life on their visits to Washington that will remain a lasting memory, Del Billingslea said.

Robeson’s funeral will be held Saturday at 2 p.m. at St. John Church of Christ, 2283 St. John Church Road, in Washington.