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Business Observer Thursday, Jul. 2, 2009 12 years ago

No More Pity Parties

Think you've got it bad? Katherine Robinson, a now out-of-work Gulf Coast banking executive who really knows about having it bad, is here to help.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Think you've got it bad? Katherine Robinson, a now out-of-work Gulf Coast banking executive who really knows about having it bad, is here to help.

The last few weeks of 2008 weren't good to Katherine Robinson.

First, federal and state regulators shuttered Bradenton-based Freedom Bank, where she was the director of human resources. Part of her job included serving as a bearer of bad news to the staff of the four-branch bank as it became clear that a shutdown was forthcoming.

A few days later, Robinson, well known and liked by many in local community banking circles, turned 50 years old. Knowing she was about to be unemployed, Robinson still went ahead with a big party that included the requisite black balloons. She called it her 50th birthday/pity party.

Then, a few days after her party, Robinson was told by her doctor she had a rare brain tumor. It was an acoustic neuroma, which would require complicated surgery within the next few weeks. Adding to the stress: The closure of
Freedom meant that by the end of the year, her health benefits would vanish.

Says Robinson: “That's when I really started having the pity parties.”

But six months later, with the tumor removed and her health restored, Robinson has found a new calling in life: She speaks to business groups and gatherings in the Sarasota-Bradenton area, with the hope that her story will resonate with people, especially during the recession. Robinson has also begun running half-marathons again.

“I think I'm a pretty blessed person to have gotten a brain tumor,” says Robinson. “I'm convinced that all this happened to me so I could help and inspire others.”

Rod Girdwood, a senior loan officer with SunTrust Bank in Venice, who was recently told he would be losing his job as of June 30, is one of the inspired. He heard Robinson's story at a recent meeting of the Sarasota chapter of the Risk Management Association.

“She has it 10 times worse than I do,” says Girdwood, who moved from Michigan to the Gulf Coast three years ago after being recruited by SunTrust. “She has been to hell and back and still has a positive attitude.”

For the first 25 years of her career, Robinson, an Indiana native, was a rising executive in the human resources field. Her stops included working for SouthTrust Bank and as the personnel manager for the town of Longboat Key.

In the 1990s, Robinson took a job in HR with the Florida division of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank. That job led to a unique position with the bank, where she was actually employed by the University of Cincinnati. Working through the school's executive training program, Robinson traveled across the country, training Fifth Third managers and officers.

But the travel began to wear Robinson down and by 2006 she was looking for a local banking job. She found one at fast-growing Freedom.

Robinson is now among the ranks of the Gulf Coast unemployed. In addition to speaking to groups, she has started her own personal coaching and job-consulting business. She is also actively looking for a job in banking and has done some contract work with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Finally, Robinson is still having parties, only now she throws them sans pity. Her latest big bash was held on New Years Eve, in the room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital where she recovered from her Dec. 30 surgery.
Robinson called it her Coming Out party — a celebration of her tumor coming out.

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