A fireman’s boot, telethons and fishbowl: stories by United Ability Journey of Hope honoree Ed Robinson

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Spastic Aid of Alabama (now United Ability) telethon “fishbowl” in the 1950s. Photo courtesy of United Ability

Humble and grateful are the two best words that describe this year’s United Ability Journey of Hope honoree Ed Robinson, longtime board member and President of HRH Metals in Moody, Alabama.

United Ability Journey of Hope honoree Ed Robinson, longtime board member and President of HRH Metals in Moody, Alabama. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

“This event should not be about me. I want to use it as a platform to honor some people and their lifelong commitment to United Ability” stated Robinson in an interview with Bham Now.

Journey of Hope – August 3rd

Robinson will get his opportunity to share the spotlight at United Ability’s signature event, the 2019 Journey of Hope, to be held on August 3, 7:00 pm at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center. Along with recognizing Ed Robinson, the annual celebration will feature a musical performance by Brian King Joseph, a finalist on the 13th season of America’s Got Talent. Get tickets here.

Ed’s Mother and the Civiettes

Robinson first came into contact with United Ability at the age of eight, when he and his mother met Lib May.

Back then, some 60 plus years ago, May was the director of the Spastic Aid of Alabama, the precursor of United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham and today’s United Ability.

At the time, May was looking for a civic organization to adopt Spastic Aid of Alabama. She identified that group – the Civiettes, a local women’s civic organization that was founded in 1938. Robinson’s mother was a member and president.

The Civiettes were smart, energetic, hard-working, but unfocused. May changed that.

She called the Civiettes and set up a meeting with Robinson’s mom, to meet her. May brought a couple of the kids that were in the care of Spastic Aid to the meeting.

“As I was told later, it was a good thing she (his mom) had her needlepoint with her during the meeting, because she was crying so hard,” said Robinson.

“Mother was very sweet, but she was also a lioness. When she focused on something you better participate or get out of the way. So, she got the Civiettes together – and they said ok – we’ve got a purpose – a single purpose. Spastic Aid of Alabama. The relationship lasted for decades.”

A Telethon, Fireman’s Boot and Fishbowl

Alabama legendary Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant attending the United Cerebral Palsy (now United Ability) telethon. Photo courtesy of United Ability

One of Robinson’s fondest memories came shortly after that meeting when he participated in the annual 24-hour telethon in support of Spastic Aid that was held by WBRC in the 1950s.

Unimaginable today, the TV station gave up a full day worth of broadcasting, filling the time up with celebrities, jugglers, comedians, singers, and high school bands. Held at Boutwell Auditorium (it was named the Municipal Auditorium in the ‘50s), Robinson vividly remembers the bank of telephone operators on stage and most importantly the gigantic fishbowl, filled with cash and change.

He remembers walking up the aisle of the cavernous auditorium and tossing his allowance into the bowl. But the highlight for Robinson, as an impressionable young man, was watching the policemen and firemen, his heroes, who had been collecting money on street corners for weeks, walk in and drop loads of cash into the bowl. The highlight? Firemen dumping cash collected in one of their boots.

“It was just incredible, as a kid to see the firemen,” added Robinson. “I remember standing in that large room, walking down the aisle and putting money in the fishbowl. It made you feel great. It really resonated, not just with me but for anybody who did it.”

Deeper Involvement with United Ability

During the years that followed, Robinson stayed connected with the organization. His sister carried on her mother’s tradition supporting United Cerebral Palsy through the Civiettes, he continued to give money and attend the events.

It was in the early 2000s, a friend of Robinson’s invited him to take a tour of the new Hand in Hand, campus for children. Much like his mother’s visit to Spastic Aid decades earlier, he was moved by what he saw.

“Once anyone steps foot on campus and they see what is going on here, you get captured. In the early 2000s, I got re-captured if you will.”

For the next two decades, Robinson joined the board, became board chair and was part of the re-branding of the organization – a contribution which has enabled United Ability to broaden its scope and vision. The result – more people than ever receive United Ability’s services.

Why Celebrate Journey of Hope

Photo courtesy of United Ability

In our meeting, Robinson humbly insisted, other United Ability volunteers needed to be recognized at the upcoming Journey of Hope.

“When I think about United Ability, I think about the opportunity to help a lot of people who desperately need it.”

The upcoming 2019 Journey of Hope celebration on August 3rd is just that. It is a gathering of inspirational people, each with stories. All who want to help. Get tickets here.

Perhaps Alison Berman, Chief Development Officer at United Ability summed it up best.

Journey of Hope is a way to honor not just Ed and his family, but every adult and every child that we work with. Last year, we served over 5300 individuals. That doesn’t include the siblings, parents, and caregivers who also benefited.”

Berman went on to say, ““For this event, we bring our families and the community together for a wonderful unique electric evening. This year, we are thrilled to have Brian King Joseph, “The King of Violin, make his Alabama debut with us on August 3. Also joining us will be some very special guests sharing stories of hope, ability, and achievement. You simply don’t’ want to miss it.”

Join us

Celebrate and connect with United Ability at the 2019 Journey of Hope on August 3rd, 6:00 pm at UAB’s Alys Stephen Center. Purchase your tickets – HERE.

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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