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Roberta R. "Robbie" Thomas

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Roberta R. "Robbie" Thomas Notice
Thomas, Roberta R. "Robbie" Roberta Rodriguez Thomas passed away on July 10, 2013, at the Hospice of the Comforter in Altamonte Springs, Fla. She was 67 years old. "Robbie" was born to first-generation Cuban parents, Viola (Goldberg) and Robert Rodriguez in Tampa, Fla., on Oct. 29, 1946. She had an older sister, Sandra, and a younger brother, Hilton. She grew up in the Tampa Bay area. In her teen years, her mother married Arthur Goldberg, who brought a teenage sister, Linda Goldberg, into the family. Robbie especially cherished her time in Indian Rocks Beach and in West Tampa where she was able to enjoy family, friends and authentic Cuban food. After graduating from Plant High School, Roberta attended the University of Florida, where she studied art, which changed to an educational tract. She married Paul Gardner and moved to Detroit, surviving two winters before returning to Tampa. Their first child, Boyd Gardner, survived only a few days. Britt Louise Gardner was born two years later. Robbie completed her BA in Elementary & Special Education at the University of South Florida. Roberta and Paul divorced, and she and Britt moved to Orlando, Fla. Robbie had a highly successful career with the Orange County School System, starting off in the mentally handicapped department. Early in her career, working full-time and as a single mother, she earned her Master's from the University of South Florida. In 1985, she completed her EdD in Educational Leadership, Foundations of Research and Special Education from the University of Florida. Robbie ended her 30-plus year career in the public school system as a Senior Administrator for Curriculum Research. She moved on to higher education to be the Director of Institutional Research for Vincennes University (VU) in Vincennes, Ind. On the side, she taught statistics online for University of Phoenix and had a number of consulting clients. While with Orange County, Robbie met William "Bill" R. Thomas, a transplanted Hoosier, from Indiana. They married and enjoyed over 35 years together. With Robbie, Bill shared his family - children, Janet, Kathy and Michael; brother, John "Jay;" and sister, Jo. His extended family in Vincennes, both Thomas's and Sheldons, embraced Robbie wholeheartedly. She and Bill lived most of their lives in Orlando, eventually settling in the Lake Nona area. They also had a home in Vincennes, while Robbie worked at VU. Since Bill was retired, they split their time between their two homes during the school semester. Robbie's passions were Bill, Britt and life. She did not speak fluent Spanish, but she enjoyed making her family's Cuban recipes. This Gulf-loving Floridian also loved to snow ski, much to Bill's dismay. However, they found common ground with the UF Gators. As boosters, they attended football games in The Swamp. Robbie had a way with people - she was intelligent, fun loving, curious and, basically, a "good shoulder" for many. She cared about bringing "outsiders" into the fold and reinforced dignity and pride when helping with minorities, the LGBT population and the homeless. At VU, she hosted gatherings for international students, and opened her home to those students on countless occasions. She was driven by the love and knowledge she received from everyone she encountered. Robbie often acted while others watched, such as sponsoring a Habitat for Humanity home and volunteering with the Orlando Youth Alliance, a nonprofit organization with the mission to provide a safe space for LGTBQ youth in Central Florida. After Bill's second bout with cancer, he passed away in March 2012. At the same time, Robbie was battling ovarian cancer. Dr. Veronica Schimp of MD Anderson Cancer Center carefully and respectfully oversaw her treatment. Ultimately, the cancer took her life. Robbie is survived by mother, Viola Goldberg; sister, Sandra McChesney; daughter, Britt Gardner; stepchildren, Kathy Friedle, Janet Quinlan and Michael Thomas; and grandchildren, Nick, Kyle, Kaley, Alyssa, TJ, Maria, Kiersten and Phoenix. The Celebration of Her Life will be held on Saturday, August 3, at Harry P. Leu Gardens, 1920 N. Forest Ave., Orlando. Guests will be received at 12:30 p.m. and the celebration will be from 1-3 p.m. Light hors d'oeuvres will be served. She will be cremated and laid to rest with William R. Thomas in the Palm Cemetery in Winter Park, Fla. Fisk Funeral Home is hosting a remembrance site at fiskfh.com. In lieu of flowers, please contribute to OYA, PO Box 536944, Orlando, FL 32853 or MD Anderson Cancer Center, PO Box 4486, Houston, TX 77210; give an online gift at orlandoyouthalliance.org and click "donate;" or mdanderson.org/gifts.

Published in the Orlando Sentinel from July 25 to July 26, 2013
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