By Robert Villanueva
In his Elizabethtown office at Robbins Enterprises, Dr. Bob Robbins pointed out framed quotes on his wall which encourage embodying a pioneering spirit, taking a stance and living a kind, happy life.
One of the quotes reads, “Follow not where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
“That is something I try to live by,” Robbins said.
The 83-year-old retired surgeon also is a businessman who said he has so enjoyed what he does, he feels he hasn’t worked a day in his life.
Born and raised in Lexington, Robbins was 4 when an incident determined his career. His mother fell against a couch and injured herself.
After seeing how doctors were able to help his mother, who had broken three or four ribs, Robbins chose his career.
“That was my whole goal in life – to be a surgeon,” he said.
Along with his career goal, Robbins knew he wanted to work in a small community where he felt he could make the most difference. He had his eye on working in a coal mining community in eastern Kentucky.
After attending medical school in Cincinnati, Robbins cultivated experience, including an internship, a surgical residency and time working in eastern Kentucky, as he had hoped.
The surgical residency was the result of witnessing a physician perform an appendectomy.
“Back then, a general practitioner had to do everything. There were no specialists,” Robbins said.
The appendectomy he witnessed proved to be a difficult one for the physician, he said. It made Robbins realize he wanted more surgical training.
Not long after that surgical residency, Robbins did a stint with the U.S. Army from 1960 to 1962 that took him to France.
Robbins said he worked with two of the best surgeons in the U.S. Army and his duties included tending to six embassies.
“I took care of the elite people there,” Robbins said.
Among those, he said, were Princess Grace of Monaco, singer Edith Piaf and actor Charles Boyer.
When Robbins returned to the states in 1962, he sought more training in surgery and ultimately was board certified as a surgeon.
Medical institutes, including Johns Hopkins, the Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, tried recruiting Robbins.
“But I still wanted to work in a small town,” he said.
That’s when Robbins began working in Greenville, another coal mining community. He was the only certified specialist in the community and enjoyed his time there from 1964 to 1968, during which he performed life-saving surgeries including heart surgery.
In one such case, Robbins received a patient who had a blood clot in his brain. Although he wanted to send the patient to another county for the surgery because he never had performed the procedure, when he called about a transfer, the doctor told him the patient would not survive the trip.
Robbins would have to perform the surgery.
With guidance from another surgeon by phone, Robbins successfully completed the procedure.
“About a year later, (the patient) came by my office to thank me for saving his life,” Robbins said.
Robbins said the only reason he left Greenville was because some of the hospital employees went on strike.
“I still have patients come here to see me from Greenville,” Robbins said.
He relocated to Elizabethtown, which he called the best choice he ever made.
Although he retired as a surgeon around 2009 — after more than four decades – Robbins still reads medical journals to keep up with what’s current in the field. He also stays busy developing projects such as RobinBrooke Senior Living, which he designed in collaboration with his partnership group.
Additionally, Robbins has worked toward creating other facilities he feels are needed in the community. Some of those efforts are ongoing, but at the heart of many of them is his desire to provide better opportunities for the average citizen.
Robbins’ grandson, Gatewood Robbins, is interning under his grandfather. He is attending college to pursue a career in business.
“I really like how much he cares about other people,” Gatewood said.
While his grandfather puts others first, Gatewood feels the most valuable lesson he’s learned is to help others while helping yourself.
Bob Robbins smiled when he described how happy his life has been, especially his chosen profession.
“I loved it,” he said. “Surgery was in my blood. I felt like I was doing something genuinely worthwhile.”
Robert Villanueva can be reached at 270-505-1743 or email@example.com.
MORE ABOUT BOB ROBBINS:
Family: Wife, Rita, and seven children.
Favorite music: Country, opera and symphony.
Favorite TV programming: News.
Favorite movie: “Dr. Zhivago.”
Favorite reading: MIT Technology Review.