On the one hand, Loudoun IT company owner Kenneth Robinson grew up in a family of businessmen and by choice opened his own business in 1982, and on the other, he attended a segregated school through his elementary school years in the 1940s and early 1950s.
The owner of KENROB and Associates, Inc. in Lansdowne at one time was considered to be a mulatto. His great-great grandfather was a slave owner, but further down the line was his grandfather, a mulatto free man, and his African-American grandmother, all inhabitants of King and Queen County on Virginia’s middle peninsula. “That’s where the light-skinned Negro comes in,” said Robinson, a Leesburg area resident who tells his story for Black History Month in February. “I think the most important thing we all gain from Black History Month is a sense of awareness of the roles and contributions of African-Americans that would otherwise not be made known to many, many individuals that may not have the ability or opportunity to encounter these stories.”
ROBINSON WAS BORN in 1941 in King and Queen County. He and his younger sister attended a segregated school until they were 12 years old, when their father sent them to live with relatives in Philadelphia, Pa. He wanted them to attend an integrated school for a “better education,” Robinson said. “I was thrust into an environment that was totally different than the one I had come to know in my first 12 years.”
Robinson said the school buildings and books were better, not being second-hand and run down. He graduated from high school in 1958 and from Howard University in Washington, D.C. in 1962 with a degree in business administration. His first job was with the Department of Defense, where he spent 18 years working in and around the Pentagon in the computer science field. He started as a computer programmer, became a computer systems analyst and finished in systems analyst management.
“In 1979, I made a decision to leave the government and take a position in the private sector. I had gotten the entrepreneurial bug and wanted to build … my own business,” said Robinson, whose great-grandfather and grandfather were businessmen in the agricultural industry and father, owner of a small general merchandise store.
“I guess it was in the genes,” Robinson said. “I’ve always been a very driven person. I absolutely live for challenges.”
Robinson worked for three years as a contractor in technical support services, then opened KENROB and Associates, using the first three letters of his first and last names for the company name. The federal contracting company, which has 135 employees and has had as many as 400 employees, provides technical support services with a focus on information technology (IT), including network, process and software engineering.
“As it is now, I work because I enjoy it, not because I have to. When it ceases to be fun and challenging, I’ll step away from it,” said Robinson, who has lived in Loudoun County since 1974. “My wife says, ‘You’ll die with your boots on. You’ll never retire.’”
ROBINSON AND Sylvia Jackson Robinson, who grew up in Loudoun County, married in 1971 and have two adult sons. Robinson is involved in several community service groups, including the Leesburg Optimist Club and the Loudoun School-Business Partnership, and has been a Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce member since 1982. He served as chamber president from 1994-95 in what is now the board chairman’s role.
"Ken is just a solid citizen. He is not a person who ever sought the spotlight," said Randy Collins, chamber president and staff member of the non-profit organization. "He's one of those business executives who goes about his work. He's not real flashy. ... He just is the consummate professional and has a can-do attitude. He's goal-oriented and just a nice person to work with. ... You can't ask for a better volunteer at the chamber."
"He was a quiet problem-solver who was able to form good relationships with the staff and with the members of the board of directors to lead the chamber," said Roundhill area resident Durette Upton, a chamber member who served on the board from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s and board president in 1992.
Robinson also served on the Town of Leesburg Parks and Recreation Commission, which helped establish Ida Lee Park. After seven years of membership, he had to leave the commission in 1993 when he moved from Leesburg to north of Leesburg. When he left, he was honored with the naming of a Little League ball field, called Robinson Field. Robinson coached baseball and football when his children were youth in the Little League program.
"He took the job seriously, did a lot of homework and did the job thoroughly," said Frederick Lillis, Leesburg Parks and Recreation Commission member for 16 years and a Leesburg doctor and resident. "He tries to get people to work together, more like the friendship of the UN [United Nations]."