Catharine Veach Robbins

Areas of Achievement: 
Higher Education
Home Making

Honored By

Honored by: Robbins, Philip A.
Date submitted: September 18, 2007
Gift: Engraved Paver, Large

Catharine Veach Robbins arrived in Tucson in 1937 from Greencastle, Indiana, a stranger to Arizona and the sole support for her disabled husband, Harold, and two small children, ages 2 and 5. She went to work for the University of Arizona, beginning a career that would last for thirty-five years until her retirement in 1972.

Catharine served as secretary to five presidents of the U of A during part of all of their terms. Starting in 1937, she worked part-time for retiring President Paul S. Burgess, dividing her time between that office and the College of Law. She then became full-time secretary to Presidents Alfred Atkinson, J. Byron McCormick and Richard Harvill, and served part-time in the administration of John Schaeffer. During all these years she also served as Secretary for the Board of Regents for the three state universities. In addition she was in charge of making the UA Commencement exercises run smoothly. After 'retirement,' she assisted Dr. Harvill in the preparation of historical material for the University's archives.

Catherine was born in Staunton, Indiana on October 13, 1903, the daughter of a country physician who also served in the Indiana legislature. She was a descendant of four generations of physicians and educations in the early days of the American Midwest. She graduated in 1923 from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana with a degree in romance languages, and then studied business education at Indiana State University, taught school, and returned to DePauw as Secretary to the Dean of Men and later Dean of Women. It was at DePauw that she met and married Harold Robbins, the Treasurer of the University.

The Robbins' move to Arizona was precipitated by the illness of Harold, who contracted crippling rheumatoid arthritis in an era when the only medical help was the advice 'move to Arizona.' Harold never recovered his health and died in 1944.

Catharine's years at the U of A spanned decades of change and explosive growth for the University and Tucson. She saw the U of A grow from 2,800 students to an institution many times that size. She played a significant role in assisting the University and its Presidents in often turbulent times.

Catharine was a true 'red and blue' loyalist. One of the first songs her children learned was 'All Hail Arizona.' She took them to athletic events at an early age and remained a Wildcat fan her entire life. She was a long time member of the First Methodist Church. Her family came first and she was a strong believer in education, encouraging and assisting her children, Philip and Marian, in graduation from Tucson High and the U of A.

On the occasion of her retirement in 1972, Catherine commented with characteristic understatement that 'I am content to have had a small role in keeping things running smoothly.' Her presidents saw it somewhat differently. Dr. Harvill wrote, 'The University has been signally fortunate in having the continuity of your services since 1937ÌÐ I share the sense of gratitude that Dr. McCormick often expressed for all that you did. I remember so well the frequent references that Dr. Atkinson made regarding the high quality of your servicesÌÐ You can look back over almost four decades of dedicated and highly effective service to the University of Arizona. You have made vast contributions during critical periods and during years of great development.' Dr. Schaeffer added that 'The University owes you a real debt of gratitude that it can never hope to repay.'

Catharine Robbins passed away in 1994 at the age of 90, survived by her two children and six grandchildren. She would be proud to have her name listed among the many pioneering women who have helped build Arizona.