NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL — After Martha Robbins Hall passed away unexpectedly Feb. 24, Tampa's service community remembered her as a tireless volunteer who had the vision and the commitment to head countless projects and chair myriad organizations.
Longtime friends of her children, the ones who had grown up with them in South Tampa years ago, remembered her as the coolest mom in the neighborhood, the one who always delighted in having a houseful of rambunctious kids in the house, who made them sandwiches and gave them fresh fruit from her garden and never made them clean up after themselves.
Red Hall, who had been her childhood sweetheart and was at her side for more then 70 years, remembered her differently.
"He said, 'You don't understand. I lost my wife, I lost my best friend, I lost my fishing buddy,' " said their daughter, Marie Preston. "He said that so many times the day she died."
Mrs. Hall was 88 years old but in good health until she suffered a heart attack on Feb. 23. She died the next day in the hospital.
She was born Martha Robbins in Mobile, Ala., but came to Florida at age 6. Her parents moved their family business, a sawmill, from Mobile to Willow, a rural community south of Tampa. There were no worthy schools in the area, so her grandparents rented a house in Tampa so young Martha could go to school at Academy of the Holy Names. She'd spend the week in Tampa, then return to Willow on weekends.
Later, the Robbins family and their business moved to Tampa, and the business became known as Robbins Lumber.
She was still in her early teens when she met a Plant High School student named Laurence Hall, whom everyone called Red. From the day they met until the day she died nearly 75 years later, they were inseparable.
"When my dad was in college he got his fraternity pin and he drove straight to her house to give it to her," said their daughter Marte Watson. "That was the only time he got to wear it, while he was on his way to give it to her."
She earned a degree in physical education from Florida State College for Women and taught for a few years at Academy of the Holy Names.
But her real career was as a homemaker and a mother to her three children.
She always loved the outdoors, especially fishing and gardening. The Hall family had a second home in Boca Grande, and she and her husband loved to go tarpon fishing in the gulf. Here in Tampa, she grew fruit and vegetables that often found their way to the family's dinner table.
When she was 60, at an age when many people are starting to think about slowing down, Mrs. Hall took classes to become a master gardener. For the rest of her life, she lectured on all aspects of gardening at libraries and at meetings of community groups and garden clubs. She kept up a busy schedule of lecturing until last year.
But she was probably best known for her volunteer work for a wide variety of organizations and causes from the Junior League, the WEDU board, the Guidance Center Board (which later developed into the Hillsborough County Mental Health Association) and Academy of the Holy Names Mothers' Association. She often ended up in leadership roles.
"My mother really was a natural leader," Watson said. "It didn't matter what she did. She'd always end up being the person who steered the project or directed the committee."
Besides her husband and her two daughters, Mrs. Hall is survived by her son Laurence, her brothers James and Jerome, and seven grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories of those who have passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]