Gloria Dumas Robinson
NATCHEZ— Graveside services for Gloria Dumas Robinson, formerly of Natchez, who died Saturday, Feb. 23, 2019, in New Orleans after complications from a stroke, will be Saturday at the Natchez City Cemetery.
Mrs. Robinson was born in Natchez the year before the Great Flood of 1927. Her father was the Natchez physician, Albert W. Dumas Sr., M.D. (1876-1945) and her mother, the former Cornelia M. Harrison (1882-1955) of Vicksburg.
Dr. Dumas, a native of Houma, La., began his medical practice in Natchez in 1899, making house calls, night and day, through the muddied streets in a horse-and-buggy; and until his death in 1945, he continued to see patients. He was not only a physician but an inventor who treated both colored and white populations of southwestern Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana.
In a series of family portraits from the era — taken by Burns Studios, the Dumas parents, invariably, are seated. Standing and flanking them are eight of their nine children. And invariably, young Gloria is seated beside her father. It was generally agreed, Gloria, ninth of nine children, was the apple of her father’s eye. So tender was the bond, a cousin recalls, that upon her father’s death, a 19-year-old Gloria, lay prostrate, sobbing inconsolably, on the floor beside her father’s coffin, at Williams and Williams Funeral Home.
As a teenager, Gloria had taken private sewing lessons from Mrs. Sally Johnson (the wife of William R. Johnson) in The William Johnson House — then, a private residence, now a museum in the Natchez National Historical Park. It was Mrs. Johnson, an adept seamstress, who had complied the diaries of her grandfather-in-law, William T. Johnson (1809-1851) which became, eventually, the volume: “William Johnson’s Natchez: The Antebellum Diary of a Free Negro.”
The entirety of Gloria’s primary and secondary education was completed at Brumfield School. Later, she attended Dillard University in New Orleans, where she studied business administration and graduated in 1948.
Shortly afterwards, she married Natchez native, J.N. Rucker, and settled in Detroit, where they launched a successful ambulance service and where he died in 1976. Their Tudor-styled home was a happy gathering place for professional events and family celebrations. For a number of years, Gloria was a member of the Detroit chapter of the Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs and had served as president. In the 1960s, she worked, tirelessly, with Dr. Charles Wright to establish the Detroit African American Museum, which, today, is known as the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Recently, it was the setting for a two-day wake for the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.
For all of Gloria’s conventionality, common attributes of the day, she was also known, incongruously, to don leather jackets and ride shotgun on J.N.’s motorcycle.
To those who knew her, she is remembered for her fashion sensibility — always cutting edge, usually, in some shade of lavender or purple, her favorite colors. She is also remembered as a tireless traveler for both work and pleasure, who was always jetting here and there, or riding the rails or the “hound” in the days when those were the conventions.
While she never had children, Gloria doted on her nieces and nephews and assumed the role of big sister. Within the family, she assumed the role of peacemaker, who, with the grace and good humor, was able to bridge all differences. She also became the family archivist.
In the early 1990s, she re-settled in the south to care for her brother, Michel O. Dumas, a widower, who was a retired Natchez pharmacist and hotelier (Dumas Riverview Motel.) The Franklin Street lunch counter at Dumas Drug Store was popular for its grilled sandwiches and milkshakes. In the segregation era, it was the only such fill-service place in the central business district open to African Americans. The pharmacy had been established at the beginning of the 20th century by Dr. Henry Dumas, Gloria’s uncle. For decades, Natchez businessman Edward Holden has displayed the Tiffany-styled “Dumas Pharmacy” sign in his Franklin Street showroom. Now, it is for sale.
In 1996, she married Natchez native, Frank Robinson — a widower, whose grandfather, Dr. John Banks, was instrumental in Gloria’s father settling in Natchez in 1899. They moved into his childhood home at 9 St. Catherine St., which they lovingly restored to its former glory, and where Frank’s grandparents had entertained Booker T. Washington, amongst other illustrious guests. Later, the house was entered in the National Register of Historic Places. Their time was split between Natchez, Boston and Cape Cod. Frank had lived and worked in New England for most of his life. He died in 2003. Subsequently, his trust stipulated the house would be bequeathed to Rose Hill Baptist Church, where his father had been a lifelong member.
On Sundays, Gloria attended Trinity Episcopal Church. Each February, she looked forward to the Natchez Literary and Cinema Festival and frequently invited out-of-town guests. Every May, she could be found in the audience of the Natchez Festival of Music. Edward Killelea remembers her annual attendance at the opera’s pre-reception at his parents’ home. And she was an enthusiastic supporter of the Natchez Children’s Home.
One of Gloria’s happiest memories included meals prepared, well into the 1990s, by a cherished friend, Gladys Bridgewater (a.k.a. Lee-Belle) who had been Gloria’s family’s housekeeper since the 1920s. Mustard greens and hot water cornbread were Gloria’s favorites, and Lee-Belle delighted in pleasing Gloria, who she had helped to raise. Gloria, herself, is remembered for her signature apple cake and muffins.
Simultaneously, in 2011, Gloria and her childhood friend, Thelma Williams, relocated to New Orleans. Gloria’s twilight years were passed on leafy Esplanade Avenue overlooking Bayou St. John and the New Orleans Museum of Art. Regularly, they attended jazz concerts at The Ellis Marsalis Music Center, followed by one of Gloria’s favorite Creole or Cajun meals. By all accounts, she enjoyed her life.
She was preceded in death by her parents and seven siblings.
Survivors include one brother, John Dumas and wife, Claudia, of Ypsilanti, Mich., and a number of nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.
Readers who wish to make a donation in Gloria Robinson’s memory may do so c/o Natchez Children’s Services at ntzchs.org/memorial_gifts.aspx or call 601-442-6858.