TUPELO • William “Doc” Robbins of Tupelo is legally blind, but he can’t see why that should stop him from doing what he loves to do: helping others.
“If you’re not gonna help people you might as well be gone,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
The Shannon native turned 81 years old a few days ago, and although his ongoing battle with macular degeneration has left him unable to read or write or drive, he said he planned to spend the day the same way he has spent six days out of seven nearly every week for the past five years: volunteering at Sanctuary Village Shoppe in Tupelo.
“I’ll come down here to work,” he said. “Might even eat some birthday cake.”
Robbins explained that since he can no longer drive, his fellow workers at Sanctuary Village Shoppe now pick him up in the morning and take him back home in the evening. He said even without his eyesight, he fulfills a necessary role in a vital ministry.
“It’s a good cause – making money for heaven’s waiting room,” he said. “It’s a wonderful place.”
Sanctuary Village Shoppe is a thrift store whose profits help support Sanctuary Hospice House, also in Tupelo. Robbins said his work at the Village Shoppe is as meaningful to him as it is to the people he serves.
“I tell people this is my rehabilitation,” he said. “It gets me out of the house. I meet people and I sell a bunch of stuff. All this stuff is donated and almost everyone who works here is a volunteer.”
When things are slow, Robbins said he is not above finding a comfortable chair and “resting his eyes” for a bit.
“One of the other volunteers found me asleep one day, and she made a sign to hang around my neck,” he said. “It says, ‘If you want to buy this chair, wake me up.’ Once in a while somebody does.”
Robbins retired in 1999 after a long and varied career. He was the first director of Alpha House in Tupelo – a group home for boys – where he worked for several years. He went on to log a total of 34-plus years working for the State of Mississippi – as a teacher, Youth Services worker and parole officer.
Reviewing a lifetime’s work, Robbins said his proudest accomplishment has been his long association with Faith Haven in Tupelo.
Begun in 1977, Faith Haven is a nonprofit emergency home for abused, abandoned and neglected children. The facility can house up to 12 children while they await reunification with their birth families or placement into foster homes. After serving on the board since its inception, Robbins resigned this spring due to failing eyesight.
Faith Haven Executive Director Jackie Smith said Robbins’ long involvement with the home has been instrumental in its success and growth over the years.
“Before I became director, I served on the board for six or seven years with Doc,” she said. “He’s a funny, loving guy, but he’s serious about the work. Whenever we’d get off track, Doc would get us straight.”
Smith said many will remember Doc as the ‘public face’ of Faith Haven and one of its most ardent allies.
“Lots of people remember the Tennessee Walking horse show that Doc organized as a fundraiser,” she said. “We did it for years. Doc was always busy making sure the home had what we need. He will be greatly missed.”
Robbins said advancing age holds no terror for him.
“I’m not scared of dying,” he said. “I’m going to heaven when I die, and I’m gonna to be able to see.”
Robbins said he has been a member at West Jackson Street Baptist Church in Tupelo for 37 years, and he begins his day praying for himself and his church family.
“I pray, ‘Lord, be with all the people on our prayer list. I can’t read their names anymore, but you know them,’” he said. “And I say, ‘Lord, please keep me going today. Help me have another good day at the store. And I could sure use some help with these eyes. Please just take care of Doc today and let him do something to help somebody.’”
Robbins said his advice to anyone who wants to live a long and happy life is simple.
“Find something to do to help somebody else,” he said. “That’s my program.”