Hard to imagine someone born in the tinseled city of Hollywood, finding a home in a bedroom community like Hemet, but I found a lady with that background. Last week we sat down for a breakfast interview at Four Seasons, a somewhat elegant retirement community on the far west side of Hemet.
Robin Lowe has a long history of being her own person, doing her own thing and with the encouragement of her parents. Growing up in the View Park area of Los Angeles, she attended both the Lutheran Parochial and Englewood Unified School District.
“My mother was an RN. She applied for medical school but was turned down. So she opened three nursing homes (known as sanatarium in those days) and became a successful businesswoman.
“For a while, my dad owned a hardware store. After some time at that, he went to work for American Hospital Supply Company and finally settled into the automobile business where he operated a successful enterprise until he was injured in an automobile accident.”
Her parents were progressives who believed strongly that women had the right to anything a man could do at a time when that was not a popular idea in a country pretty much dominated by white men when it came to business.
“My father was a veteran of World War II, and they waited until the war ended before getting married. Then I came along, and they both decided I would not be the victim of parents who both worked. They wanted a traditional upbringing for me. So she sold her businesses and concentrated on being a good mother to me. My father was supportive of my independence. He wanted me to learn, and I was avidly involved from day one in social issues. I had a yearning for knowledge, and some of my most fun times with my father was when I worked with him the garage, learning to do stuff — learning how things worked.
“I was adept at blowing up car engines. He wasn’t too happy with me when that happened with the first car he bought me, a VW. I gutter sniped. Since he owned a Chrysler Automobile business, I grew up around cars and garages. He taught me how to respect and take of cars, how to change a tire, make sure the radiator had water and check the dipstick so that I didn’t forget to see that the car had enough oil.
“My mother and grandmother taught me how to be a good home maker. It was a time the family unit still existed. We didn’t sit around with a crappy cell phone. I don’t understand how a family having dinner in restaurants and there is dead silence. Every cotton-picking one of them is fingering a cell phone, like it was the main entre.”
Robin was an only child because mother was older and unable to have more children. “However, it was important to them that I had a relationship with all my cousins and extended family. They made sure that I went back to visit them every year in Illinois. Much of my father’s family lived in Illinois, including my grandparents. My cousins are like brothers and sisters to me. So we have always been a close family. My mother’s parents lived in California so they were an integral part of my life growing up. It was a rare occasion that we did not spend Sundays with the family. So family structure was implanted in my mind from birth.”
HOW DID SHE BECOME INVOLVED WITH LOCAL POLITICS?
“My parents introduced me too community events: President of the PTA Father’s Club and Pancake Breakfast Club. They were football parents and I became scorekeeper for the high school team. My first boyfriend was captain of the baseball team, so I was into that kind of thing and my folks promoted that for me. They wanted me to be aware of social issues.”
Robin had retired from Bell Telephone Company in Chicago because they wanted to transfer her to their Lab in Morris Town, New Jersey. A born and raised product of Southern Sunshine, she preferred sunshine to the East Coast’s cold and freezing winters.
How did she meet her husband, Mel?
“That’s an interesting story. He was superintendent on an air conditioning job in Riverside County, doing construction work in 1984. We were both working on that job. I used to kibitz him because he seemed always to be late. I later discovered that we lived in the same neighborhood when I was a teenager, although we went to different schools. He also lived in the San Fernando Valley and was one of my Godsister’s friends. I knew a girl that he was dating, but he and I had never met. So here we were in Hemet in our forties, both the product of previous marriage and divorces. My aunt and uncle had lived in Hemet since 1961 and my parents came here in 1974 after my dad’s accident. So I knew Hemet and had spent a lot of time here over the years.
“My mother invited him to Easter Dinner after church. He asked if he could go to church with me the next Sunday. Of course, he could. My mother was crazy about him. He ended up renting an apartment in a building we managed.
“My mother died in 1986 and six months later, we were already living in Hemet, on a Sunday morning we had come home from Riverside where were property managers. My father was sitting at the kitchen table, busy writing out his check for church that morning. He put his book away and handed me a newspaper. ‘I want you to read this article. You’re going to build that library in Hemet.’ The city council had just turned down a grant for 10 million dollars to build a new library. That money went to three other libraries. ‘You are going to run for city council and that will be your issue. I’ll give you the money you need to get started. Not a lot, but you’re going to get that library built. I can’t believe that the best they can do is that little building at Florida and Buena Vista.’ I had not even thought about running. There was an opening on the planning commission. So I went to see Lori Van Arsdale about the Planning Commission vacancy. I knew a lot about engineering because during my years with the telephone company my accounts were with the U. S. Government and banking industry in Illinois. Consequently, I felt I could work out fine on the Planning Commission.
Lori suggested she might be the right choice for a City Council seat to which Robin replied, “I have only been back from Illinois for a couple of years. I need to know the community better.” Lori insisted that she had been coming to Hemet from Los Angeles for years and that she probably knew the Valley better than she thought since she visited with aunt and uncle here for years.
I had been on a school board in Illinois for ten years. I thought I had something to offer and would be giving back to the community,”
Apparently, Lori was rather convincing since she did run and was re-elected several times.
Hemet was beginning to see a rebirth of development other than mobile home parks.
“At that time, Valley Hermosa was coming forward with the rest of their plan to finish that property. The federal government stepped in to deny any senior-only projects. That’s when Lori Van Arsdale and I started our campaign to ensure senior housing was protected. We were fighting the federal government. House Speaker Gephardt came out to Hemet and promised us he would take care of it, but two years later, we still didn’t have action. When the two of us met with government officials in Orange County, we were threatened with arrest by Federal Marshals for whatever reason. We never did know why. We returned to Hemet and met with Congressman Sonny Bono. He even came to Hemet to demonstrate with us. Thanks to him and other demonstrations were set up throughout the United States. We brought 20,000 people to our support at the hearings in Ontario.
“HUD had the idea that we should live by a completely different situation that existed on the East Coast. What they were suggesting was totally assisted living whereas, we preferred to live independently. Our attorney donated her time to our cause and wrote the amendments that needed to be put into the bill to have them ready for the Unruh Act in California. We knew we’re going to have trouble in Sacramento and we did, but finally got it through the legislature.”
She considers that to be the highlight of her 16 years on the City Council, but finally getting the new public library opened in downtown Hemet rates high on her list of accomplishments. She has served on more committees and panels than can be listed, among them Chairwoman of RCTC, Chairwoman for the County Integrated Plan committee, Chairwoman for the Endangered Species K-Rat Committee.
“When I went on that Board, the K-Ray Agency was charging $2500 a house for K-Ray protection. The problem was that there were only one or two persons actually elected that Commission. The rest were staff I was encouraged to get more elected commissioners and we did.”
Robin has long been involved in Republican politics in a county that is one of the most conservative in the state, but I sensed some truly liberal ideas in our conversation. She is a lovely blonde who wouldn’t allow a picture until she visited her hairstylist. A blonde but not a ‘dumb blonde.’ She is intelligent with a real down-home personality, but don’t ever take her to be weak in any instant. She has waded through more slings and arrows and probably has the battle scars to prove it, but she is one tough cookie and I don’t think anybody who would decide to take her on should underestimate her abilities. She has survived political wars and many of her adversaries have made the mistake of taking her on and paid dearly for that mistake. Just sayin’
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