Remembering Doris Robinson

My train ride from Charleston, West Virginia, to the Deep South to Grambling was not a calm one. During this era of the 1950s, I recall feeling it was safer living north of the Mason/Dixon Line.

Thelma Smith Williams

Thelma Smith Williams

After riding all day Oct. 1, 1956, the train was slowing down and I did not understand what the porter was yelling. Later, I found out he was saying, “Monroe, Monroe, Monroe.” Looking out the window from my seat, I saw my luggage on the railroad platform. I quickly jumped up and got off the train.

I found a taxi to take me to Grambling. The cab driver already had three passengers, ladies dressed in starched white dresses. He dropped them off at a church in Monroe, and then we came to Grambling – a winding ride down two-lane U.S. Highway 80. When we arrived in Grambling, it looked like a cowboy town – unpaved streets and all.

The cab driver dropped me off at Jewett Hall, which was then the dorm for women faculty. I sat on my luggage in the lobby for a while, then asked Mrs. Orivia Gaulden, dorm mother, “Where does Coach Eddie Robinson live?” He was the person I was told to contact. She directed me to Coach Rob’s house, a short walk away.

When I arrived, I was greeted by Coach Robinson’s wife, Doris who answered my knock at the side door. I told her I was the new physical education and dance teacher. “Come on in girl,”

That evening I had the first of many helpings of Doris Robinson’s beans and rice.

From that initial greeting, she made me feel welcome. It was real genuine and made me forget I was a nervous wreck from the long journey from the East Coast. Thus began a lifelong friendship.

This meeting at their home is how it is has been every since. Their home on Adams Street was open to all, like the people who lived there. For years, their house was the destination all hours of the day for students, dignitaries and anyone else.

She was the perfect mate for a man instrumental in helping the university in the 1950s village of Grambling become world famous.

From my observations, she was and will always hold the title of First Lady of the Sports World. 

When it comes to Coach (Eddie G. Robinson) I can hear him saying, as he walked through the side door of their home, “Hey, Baby” — and sealing the greeting with a kiss.

Through the years, our friendship grew and matured. We interacted in so many ways on campus and in the community. I recall at an event in the early days at New Rocky Valley Baptist Church where we were both members, she sang a song that my mother taught me as a child. It is a song I have often heard her sing that further cemented our friendship:

“I’ve done my work.

“I’ve sung my song.

“I’ve done some good.

“I’ve done some wrong,

“And so goodbye.

“I’ll take my rest

“Where the sweet flowers grow.”


Thelma Smith Williams is a retired GSU faculty member who lives in Grambling. She is considered the unofficial historian of the university and the town.