Women of Western Wake: Jennifer Robinson

Title and Organizations: District A Representative, Cary Town Council; Founder, Cary Community Foundation; Co-founder, Cary Women’s Giving Network; Secretary, Triangle Transit Authority

Education: B.A. in English and Studio Arts, University of Virginia

Family: Husband Paul; Children Kathryn, Anna, Bryce, Meredith, ages 17 to 8

Early jobs: Administrative, Department of Health & Human Services, Administration of Children & Families; led to consulting work in Washington, D.C.

Cary resident: Since 1995

Fun facts: First visited Cary in 1986 for Band Day, as member of school rifle corps; has not eaten chocolate since 1986, and lives caffeine-free


Not many people can claim leadership abilities in elementary school, but Jennifer Robinson does.

“Am I a leader? Yes, since childhood,” joked Robinson, a 15-year member of the Cary Town Council. “When I was about 7, my mom and her friend rallied a group of children to circulate a petition in support of keeping our school’s mascot. We lost, but I clearly remember the excitement of taking action to influence a decision.

“And later, when they discontinued the ‘brags and quotes’ section of my senior yearbook, which I had looked forward to, I published my own,” she said. “It was a defining experience.”

Robinson’s early activism taught her to address issues head-on.

“Dad always said, ‘Make a place better than you found it,’ and Mom said, ‘Fight for what’s right,’” Robinson recalled. “A leader is someone who has the vision of what can be, is willing to take bold action to get the job done, even if means incurring criticism, and is an ambassador for the people she represents.”

In the 1990s, as a business analyst and a newcomer to Cary, Robinson was a familiar face at Town Council meetings. She spoke out on local matters such as the construction of Louis Stephens Drive, and the placement of Green Hope Elementary School.

Those advocacy efforts led to her appointment to Cary’s Growth Management Task Force in 1998, and to an at-large seat on the Town Council the following year. She ran for the District A Council spot in 2001 and has held it ever since.

“Western Cary was under-represented on the council in 1999, and I suppose I fit a need,” she said. “I was from the western side of town, a woman with young children, and they knew I already came to the meetings!”  

In her first council session, discussion included the size of the proposed town hall auditorium, and a vote against a Harrison Avenue extension that’s still being talked about today.

“Being on the council was different than having my back to the audience,” Robinson said. “In the beginning I could barely breathe, and my neck got red every time I spoke. As a council member you have to be able to justify your position. Over time, you ascend to the role and learn by reading and conversing.

“When you look at problems superficially, answers are easy. But when you come to realize the complexities, there are few easy answers,” she said. “There are votes I wish I could redo, and I’ve learned the ebb and flow as problems recur, morph, and often have to be revisited.”

As public service gradually replaced corporate work in her life, Robinson was also tending a growing family.

“During my second campaign, my second oldest child was 6. On the eve of the election she wrote me a note saying, ‘I love you so so so much. I hope you lose,’” she said. “The children make a daily sacrifice for me to serve, and they love Cary. I think they’ll be great citizens.”

In a typical day, Robinson rises early to exercise, gets the children off to school, works in real estate, meets with citizens, government leaders or nonprofit boards, and oversees homework prior to evening meetings.

“It’s a balancing act, spinning plates and juggling flaming swords, and never the same day twice,” she said. “But it’s all fun and interesting. I have had the opportunity to serve in an active professional capacity, to have a say in how our community evolves, and to be at home with the children.”

Campaigning for office every four years has been particularly challenging, Robinson says.
“Walking into a room to face public criticism is hard, especially when you’re trying to be the best steward of your community,” she said. “I rely heavily on the support and assistance of friends and family.”  

Collaboration, whether in private or public life, is key.  

“I’m thankful for the collaborative nature of our council,” Robinson said, “and its understanding of the stakeholders in any given issue. A variety of opinions, expressed in collaborative fashion, can lead to better solutions.”  

Robinson’s evolvement over the years is reflected in the range of duties on her résumé, from tree preservation to economic development, to painter of ships for Vacation Bible School at her church, Apex Baptist.

Though she won’t seek higher office while her children are young, she has expanded her focus to regional and state matters.

“To stay on top of the issues of quality and density of the development happening here in Cary,” Robinson said to the question of her goals. “To get our region to the point we’re ready to talk openly about transit. And, to see my children successfully launched into college.

“I’m humbled to serve,” she said. “Cary’s important to me. Every day I contemplate what I can do to help. I drive around town with a critical eye and think about the future, and how to protect what we love.”

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