Virginia Hearde Robinson, 89, of Strawberry Mansion, a gifted musician and Pentecostal church leader in North Philadelphia for 30 years, died Thursday, July 23, of complications from dementia at a nursing home in Dover, Del.
Pastor Robinson was born in Greenville, S.C., to Rose Hearde and William Smith. She graduated from public schools and was accepted at Howard University in Washington, where she studied for two years.
She was blessed with a love and talent for music, her family said in a tribute.
While still in Greenville, she began singing at Mountain View Baptist Church. In the 1960s, she met Arthur Robinson, an Army serviceman and factory worker.
“The very handsome and debonair Mr. Robinson swept her off her feet,” the family said. After marrying, the couple moved to Philadelphia and settled in Strawberry Mansion.
Pastor Robinson took piano lessons. One of her most memorable experiences was taking organ lessons at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in South Philadelphia. Later, she took guitar lessons at the Settlement Music School.
Her musical prowess put her in good stead when she was tapped to become pastor of Emmanuel’s Temple of Deliverance. She was also the director of music, Sunday school teacher, president of the pastor’s aid group, youth adviser, and an evangelist. In 1987, the church gave her an honorary doctor of divinity for her service.
Earlier, she had served as the musician for the North Philadelphia-based Bethlehem Church of God, a Pentecostal group called “One Church.”
To make a living, Pastor Robinson held many different jobs. She was an elevator operator in Greenville and a counter attendant at a dry cleaners in Strawberry Mansion.
In the early 1960s, Pastor Robinson was accompanying a local male church chorus when she was introduced to L.M. McClain, a female gospel singer. While working at the cleaners, Pastor Robinson would have lunch with McClain, who lived nearby.
“Soon, one of the greatest friendships and sisterhoods developed between the two,” her family said.
In 1964, McClain persuaded Pastor Robinson to become pastor of Emmanuel’s Temple, which McClain had founded and where she served as overseer. Pastor Robinson credited divine intervention for giving her the chance to lead a church, her family said.
“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” was the Bible passage (Psalm 119:105) that she liked to quote, her family recalled.
In April 1968, Pastor Robinson’s daughter, Amoscita, was born. “They were inseparable,” the family said.
In addition to her spiritual duties, Pastor Robinson taught water aerobics at the North Philadelphia YMCA and was secretary-treasurer of the parent teachers association at the Philadelphia School and the William W. Bodine High School for International Affairs. She was a member of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN.
Pastor Robinson’s greatest pleasure was working with the young people of her church.
“She ignited and cultivated their many talents, not only through choirs and ensembles, but also through skits, plays, and productions. One of her greatest accomplishments was production and performance of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar,” her family said.
The annual show by the church’s youth was such a hit that it was staged at other churches and venues, including the African American Museum in Philadelphia in 1993. Pastor Robinson was the director and musician for the production.
“She was a giving, faithful, loyal, and loving person,” her daughter said. “She advocated the Golden Rule but amended it to say: Treat others better than they treat you.”
Her husband died earlier. In addition to her daughter, Amoscita Rodriguez, she is survived by three brothers, a sister, and nieces and nephews.
A viewing from 3 to 6 p.m. Friday, July 31, and 9 to 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, at Emmanuel’s Temple of Deliverance, 3730 Germantown Ave., will be followed by a 10 a.m. funeral service Saturday at the church. The event can be livestreamed by logging onto https://www.cjfuneralhome.com/ and clicking on Pastor Robinson’s photo.