By Chloe Hunt '21
Campus feels a little less bright without the one and only Mr. Robillard. The tea-loving, fanny pack-toting tour de force was present in all aspects of campus life.
Whether it be on the tennis court, in the classroom, or at Model United Nations in Boston, the journalism teacher, APUSH teacher, tennis coach, Global Studies Director, Model UN advisor, international trip leader, and Tea Club advisor has made an indelible impression on North Cross life.
Albeit that we have only been in school for a few weeks, students have noticed that he is missing on campus.
Olivia Murchison ‘21 took Mr. Robillard’s AP U.S. History class last year, and she has been a part of the Model UN Program since her sophomore year.
“Mr. Robillard always knew how to brighten my day, and I miss his energy on campus,” Murchison said. “He is important to so many of us and there is definitely a void without him.”
Student Mahum Hashmi ‘21 misses his presence as well.
“There is nobody like him,” Hashmi said. “All of us enjoy seeing him in the hallway. He can make anybody’s day better, and he encouraged me to really delve into history.”
Faculty members miss him as well. Susan Wenk, the Director of the Student Council Association, even planned a special video in his honor.
“If I had to choose two adjectives to describe Mr. Robillard,” Wenk said, “I would use positive and kind.”
Leigh Ann Hamlin, Interim Dean of Students, echoed this idea.
“It is safe to say that our campus is missing a few extra ounces of energy this school year. We miss seeing him walking down the hallway and listening to his stories about his grandiose ideas and adventures,” Hamlin said. “We are so grateful that he is okay and plans to return to our NCS community. We still have so much more to learn from him.”
When Mr. Robillard saw the video that the SCA created for him, featuring perspectives from students and teachers alike, he was brought to tears.
“Despite all that has happened lately, I rarely cry, but this brought out the tears of joy,” Robillard said. “That was some great medicine.”
The story of his accident involves a North Cross alumna, Reagan Robey Brown ‘11.
After getting a Bachelors in Nursing from the University of South Carolina, Brown worked at the RMH ED in the pediatrics and trauma departments. Now, she currently lives and works in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia Medical Center in pediatric oncology, and she is married to another North Cross graduate.
Brown happened to be in Roanoke for wedding preparations when she found Mr. Robillard.
“The day of the accident my mom, my husband, and I were on our way back home from buying a sofa for our new home when I saw a man laying in the road behind a dump truck with a bike near him,” Brown said. “I knew immediately something bad had happened and EMS was not there yet. So, I had my mom pull over and I jumped out.”
As Mr. Robillard said, Brown saved his life.
“As I, and a couple other people arriving at the scene, were assessing him I recognized him to be my teacher Mr Robillard from high school,” Brown said. “He was very injured but able to tell me that yes that was who he was.”
Thereafter, Brown helped calm Mr. Robillard.
“Many bystanders were trying to help in any way they could and also were very startled by what they were seeing, so I found my role to be more keeping both Mr Robillard and his surrounding area calm and safe until the medics arrived. I was able to reach out through a variety of NCS connections in order to attempt to reach his wife and try to let her know what had happened as soon as possible,” Brown said. “Since the accident, it has been amazing to see Robert's resilience, the Robillard family's strength, and the North Cross community's compassion.”
Thanks to Brown’s efforts, Mr. Robillard is recovering at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
“[Brown] literally saved my life,” Robillard said. “There was this woman who was doing the wrong thing and could have killed me, but Reagan jumped into it and realized it was me, and she really, really helped me.”
The hospital provides world-renowned rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, and other neuromuscular problems.
Mr. Robillard said that the soonest he could be done is November 5, but the recovery process is not linear.
“I was in four weeks of intensive care at Carilion,” Robillard said. “I have been here for about five weeks, and then I will be here most likely deep into November.”
Robillard hopes that he will be done with basic rehabilitation by early November, but he said that the Shepherd Center also has apartments so that patients can adjust to independent living, where he may end up.
“I did not just break my spine in a couple different places,” Robillard said. “I broke my spine, my clavicle, scapula, fractured lots of ribs, and because of those breaks, I have no muscle. I am five weeks in the rehab, but I am basically at square one. I have no ability to do the things they want me to do, and when I try, I go into like a week long relapse of not being able to do a thing.”
Robillard said that rehabilitation is slow, but the thrill is making minor leaps, such as finally getting off the ventilator for example. As we say in Willis Hall, Robillard is making “incremental progress.”
Robillard said that Mr. Thompson, former Director of the Upper School, came to visit him in the hospital.
“I was certain he was going to do an ‘I told you so,’” Robillard said. “Every year, he would see me ride my bike to graduation, and he said that I was going to get into an accident and have to cancel graduation. To his credit, he never said ‘I told you so’ and was there for more in the hospital.”
Mr. Robillard has a long way to go before he is back on campus. When asked what he missed the most about teaching, he immediately responded.
“You guys,” Robillard said. “I miss seeing people’s faces, teaching of course, and being in Roanoke.”
While we wait for him to come back, please continue sending your thoughts, prayers, letters, and videos to the resilient Mr. Robillard.