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Martha Whelan Robinson

Thu, 03/07/2024 - 11:29

Sept. 3, 1958 - Feb. 7, 2024

Martha Mary Whelan Robinson “dedicated her life to finding housing for the homeless and the developmentally challenged, and later to expanding literacy education,” her family wrote. Dr. Robinson, who grew up in East Hampton, died at home in Connersville, Ind., on Feb. 7. She was 65 and had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis seven years ago.

After graduating from St. Michael’s College in Vermont, she moved to Chicago in the early 1980s, where she worked for various community and social services before founding and serving as director of Deborah’s Place, a homeless shelter for women.

“Martha started this shelter to create a safe place just for women,” said her husband, the Rev. Eric Robinson. The two were married on July 19, 1986.

Later, Dr. Robinson “became the executive director of a not-for-profit that helped the developmentally challenged transition from life in state institutions into apartments or group living arrangements,” her family wrote, and as part of that work she was named to the Illinois Commission on Social Services, which advised the governor on policy.

“Her work was her life,” her husband said. “She cared for others.”

The couple moved to Indiana, where Mr. Robinson attended seminary. There, upon learning that her three children were dyslexic, as she was, she earned both a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in school psychology at Ball State University. She became a licensed school psychologist in Indiana and worked in schools in that capacity for 10 years.

She was a member of the American Psychological Association, and earned a fellowship in the Orton-Gillingham method of teaching reading, later founding and serving as director of the Masonic Learning Center for Children in Indianapolis.

Dr. Robinson “invented a new and unique linguistic approach to teach reading, which has positively impacted many lives, and is now called the Robinson Reading System,” her family wrote.

She was a co-founder of Fortune Academy, a school for dyslexic children in Indianapolis. After her husband became a Methodist minister, Dr. Robinson “developed her own ministry in the church and did mission trips to Kenya, inspired by her desire to help children with reading difficulties, and began preparing to become a deacon in the church.” She also taught at the University of Southern Indiana, Ivy Tech Community College, and Butler University.

Despite her A.L.S. diagnosis, she continued to tutor children and adults in the last seven years of her life. “Right up to the end of her life, she would aid her husband with critiquing his sermons and helping him improve them,” her family said. “She also mentored her daughter in the continuation of her work to expand literacy education.”

“Martha never stopped touching lives and serving and helping, despite, at the end, only being able to move her eyes,” her husband said.

Dr. Robinson was born on Sept. 3, 1958, to Duane Whelan and the former Mary Webster of East Hampton, one of 12 children. She graduated from East Hampton High School.

“Martha was kind and adventurous,” said her sister Elizabeth Whelan Kotz of Bridgehampton. “She had a big laugh and a good sense of humor. She loved swimming, especially in the ocean, camping, and traveling. She loved her family very much.”

In addition to her husband, Dr. Robinson is survived by three children, Liam Robinson of Connersville, Kearney Robinson of Evansville, Ind., and Aidan Robinson of San Antonio. Eight siblings also survive: Margaret Eaton of East Montpelier, Vt., Susanna Kelly of Highland Beach, Fla., Rebecca O’Herron of Newburgh, N.Y., David Whelan of Sag Harbor, Anne Mullins of Orland Park, Ill., John Whelan of East Hampton, Joseph Whelan of Bristol, R.I., and Ms. Whelan Kotz. She leaves many nieces and nephews.

Three siblings, Maria Whelan, Peter Whelan, and Catherine Foley, died before her.

She requested that her body be donated to further A.L.S. research.

Her family has suggested memorial donations to the Robinson Reading System, online at

A memorial service will be announced at a later date.



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