A Monthly Profile of Orchestra Fans and Family
Susie Robinson’s husband, Norman, always said his wife never knew when to quit. And that’s been a very good thing for The Philadelphia Orchestra, which recently honored her with the Golden Baton Award for her 50 years of dedicated volunteer service and leadership.
“It’s probably been the most enriching experience of my entire life,” Robinson says, “not only going to the concerts but getting to know the people involved and the staff and the Board. It’s been a great part of my life.”
Susie first started attending the Orchestra as a young wife and mother. Married in 1952, she and Norman, who grew up in Swarthmore, settled on the Main Line when he got out of the service. “When we came back, I said to him, ‘The first thing I want to do is go to the Orchestra,’” she remembers. She did, buying her first subscription and attending with friends on Friday afternoons.
“I liked Friday afternoons because I could always get my cleaning girl to babysit,” she laughs. “After the concert, I remember I’d rush across the street, jump in my car, and tear home in time to take her to the bus.”
Since those early days, her passion for the Orchestra has only grown. Susie joined the West Philadelphia Volunteer Committee in 1960 (at different points serving as chairman and treasurer) and remains actively involved. She served on the Orchestra’s Board from 1986 to 1992. (For many years she was also active with the Park House Guides at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.) She’s been a longtime subscriber, first with friends, then with her husband on Friday nights. The couple traveled with the Orchestra to Europe, and regularly attended performances at the Bravo! Vail Music Festival. As a member of the Maestro’s Circle Committee, she’s still raising money for the Orchestra. Odds are also good you’ll see her in Verizon Hall on Friday afternoons.
“I go to as many concerts as I can,” she says. “Every concert is amazing. We know they’re the finest orchestra in the world. They tell us that we have five top orchestras in this country and I don’t know who they would say is at the top, but I have no doubts that it’s Philadelphia.”
Susie was born and grew up in Western Pennsylvania—in Johnstown. (She wasn’t alive during the Great Flood in 1889, but she did see the St. Patrick’s Day Flood of 1936.) She attributes her love of music to her mother, a pianist and singer who had lived in New York before returning to Johnstown to get married. As a young girl, Susie took piano and voice lessons, attended performances by Johnstown’s local orchestra, and remembers, quite vividly, the first time she heard a piece of music that moved her: She walked into the house of a friend who lived down the street and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was playing.
“I just remember liking it,” she says. I didn’t have any deep philosophical thoughts at the time. But I think just because there was beautiful music and people were singing in a chorus … that caught my attention. I can picture her living room. I can picture her phonograph. Isn’t that funny how certain things like that you keep in the back of your mind somewhere.”
In 1954 Susie and Norman moved to Haverford where they built their life and raised three children—Pam, Hillary, and Roger. Norman died in 2014.
“I miss him,” Susie says. “I have been blessed because we were married for 62 years … and happily so. And he loved the Orchestra as much as I do.
“The music is incredibly inspiring. That does a lot to your life. You leave a concert and think, ‘Gosh, that’s really wonderful. Life is great.’ And I think you begin to have a more spiritual sense of things. How fortunate we are. I think we’re incredibly lucky in Philadelphia to have the world-class Orchestra we do.”
Susie Robinson (left) with Caroline B. Rogers, president of the Volunteer Committees for The Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Jessica Griffin