Robbie Board: ‘A kindly, gentle spirit’
Robbie Board was a slightly built tower of strength — a woman who worked and raised three children alone after her husband died. She was passionate about justice, say those who knew her, and she always spoke her mind.
Board died June 21, 2006, at age 100. Hers is not a name heard often when people speak of the history of civil rights and desegregation in Roanoke. Yet Board, some say, was an unsung hero of that time and beyond.
“She was a great believer in equal rights for everybody,” recalled her daughter, Jeane Hale Marsh of Roanoke.
“She was a great person, and because she came this way, we’re a better family and this is a better community,” her other daughter, Jackie Bolden said.
Robbie Board lived a colorful and eventful life. As a young woman, she worked as a housekeeper at the house of a young John Payne, who would become the Roanoke Valley’s most famous movie star. (Payne was a staple in mid-century movie musicals, but is best remembered as co-star of “Miracle on 34th Street,” along with Maureen O’Hara and a very young Natalie Wood. Payne was the lawyer who defended Santa Claus.)
Board was in her 20s at the time, with three children of her own. (Her first husband, William Hale, had died very young with pneumonia, Jackie Bolden said. Robbie Board was married a second time, to Lynwood Board, when the children were already grown.) Board recalled in interviews that Payne was always clowning around in his kitchen and asking her to critique his singing. “He should have been a comedian,” Board told The Roanoke Times at age 94.
Sometimes Payne took her to the movies. “With his hat turned up, Mr. Payne was the sportiest man in town,” Board told the Roanoker magazine in 1992. Board also said she once cooked country ham and fried potatoes at the Payne house for singer Nelson Eddy.