Longtime housing advocate, community leader Robinson dead

Longtime housing advocate and community leader Delmar P. Robinson, whose efforts led him to be named the city’s outstanding citizen in 2008,¬†has died. He was 78.

Robinson served as chairman of the Biloxi Housing Authority after being appointed by Mayor A.J. Holloway in 1997. During his 19 years with the agency, he oversaw the transformation of the Biloxi public housing agency, replete with generations-old barracks-style units and deemed as troubled by the federal government, to an agency that is home to attractive townhomes, public-private-partnerships and serving more families than it served before Hurricane Katrina.

“Delmar’s passion for his hometown was unmatched,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. “He worked selflessly to improve Biloxi in every way. That passion, his intelligence and his leadership transformed the Biloxi Housing Authority from a liability to an asset.”

Added the mayor: “Delmar and I were much alike. I will personally miss his friendship and interaction. We would both smile when we ran into each other. He would say to me, ‘Mr. Gilich.’ And I would respond, ‘Mr. Robinson.'”

Gilich ordered flags at city facilities in Biloxi to fly at half staff today through Robinson’s burial on Saturday afternoon.

A visitation for Robinson will be Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church in downtown Biloxi. A service will begin at 11 a.m. with burial afterward at Biloxi City Cemetery.

Delmar Robinson was born in Biloxi on July 11, 1937. He attended Biloxi Colored School and graduated from M.F. Nichols School. Escaping the oppressive segregation of the Deep South, Robinson migrated to California and joined the military in 1953. After four years of service as an Accounting and Finance Specialist in the U.S. Air Force and 33 years of service with the National Parks Service, Robinson retired to Biloxi.

“I’ll never forget that upon deciding to return home, I had written a letter to the Mayor of Biloxi, and I advised him that I would like to use my experience to help make my community a better place to live, either in a paid or unpaid position,” Robinson said, adding with a chuckle: “Of course, A.J. Holloway, being the individual he was, he chose for me to help in an unpaid position.”

Holloway, who had just entered his first year of a career that would span six and a half terms, tasked Robinson with helping to turn around the Biloxi Housing Authority, a federally-funded agency that had been plagued by federal investigations, charges of racism, and was still operating from barracks-style housing dating back to the 1940s.

The two later met with U.S. Senator Trent Lott, then the Senate Majority Leader, to lobby for a federal Hope VI grant, an acronym for Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere.

“I remember Delmar, Trent and I were in a meeting in a conference room in Trent’s Capitol office,” Holloway once said. “And here was Trent, one of the most powerful men in the country, talking about possibilities, and he said, ‘What do you think, Mr. Chairman?’ And I looked at Delmar, and I said, ‘He’s talking to you, Delmar.'”

The housing authority received a $35 million HOPE VI grant, the largest offered by HUD, which led to the construction of housing sites that restored traditional street grids and lined those streets with adjoining townhomes close to daycares, schools and other businesses.

“Delmar did things in a collaborative manner,” said Ward 2 Councilmember Felix Gines. “From his experience at the state, local and federal levels, he knew how to build coalitions to get things done. It was never about him. It was about him bringing people together to make things happen that created opportunities for better lives.”

Robinson, in fact, helped push for a new Nichols Elementary School because, as he said in an interview with the USM oral history program, “it was our feeling that if we lost that school, we would have a lot of difficulty in trying to revitalize our community.”

His career of accomplishments in Biloxi led him to be named Biloxi’s Outstanding Citizen in 2008 during a Lions Club luncheon. Said Gilich: “Delmar Robinson, Mr. Robinson, loved Biloxi, and we are better people and a better city because of his work and his example.”


More on Delmar Robinson

Images of Delmar: ¬†To see photos of Delmar Robinson, from his “retirement” years in Biloxi, post 1992, click here.

In his own words: Delmar Robinson in 1999 was interviewed for the oral history program for the Center for Oral History & Cultural Heritage at the University of Southern Mississippi. During the interview, he recounts his early memories of Biloxi, his extraordinary career path, and his philosophy on life. To read the document, click here.

Obituary: To see the full obituary for Delmar P. Robinson, courtesy of Bradford-O’Keefe Funeral Home, click here.