Today, mothers2mothers (m2m) is saying farewell to Robin Smalley, a dear colleague, friend, mentor, and inarguably, one of our most passionate and energetic advocates. After 18 years of working tirelessly to serve women, children, and families, m2m’s Co-Founder and Chief Connector, Robin Smalley, is retiring.
Farewell to Robin Smalley
Robin first met m2m in 2004. Her best friend, Karen Besser (the sister of m2m Founder Mitch Besser), had gone in for minor shoulder surgery, but tragically never came out of anaesthesia. As Robin and Mitch kept vigil by Karen’s side over the next couple of weeks, they talked about the programme Mitch had started at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa—where mothers living with HIV supported other mothers to overcome the tremendous fear and stigma of testing positive for HIV and access lifesaving treatment and services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). After Karen died, Robin thought she would never have the strength to move forward with her life. That’s when Mitch invited her to visit the programme in South Africa.
“The morning I landed, I went on hospital rounds with Mitch who was still practicing obstetrics. All day I met the extraordinary women he treated and was overwhelmed and inspired by their courage, their spirit, their humour, and how despite unimaginable poverty and challenges, they continued to put one foot in front of the other. I was deeply inspired and wanted to be like them. On that day, my life was changed forever,” says Robin.
That day also changed m2m forever. Robin fell in love with the work and South Africa, and within months, she moved her husband and two daughters to Cape Town and became m2m’s first Executive Director. These proved to be the first steps on a career dedicated to scaling the Mentor Mother Model and attracting sustainable funding for m2m. In 2005, Robin returned to Los Angeles as Director of m2m U.S., where she set to work expanding the organisation’s funding base and developing key global partnerships…many of which still exist today.
“I have always been in awe of Robin’s energy, her passion, her love of mothers2mothers…her indefatigable spirit for all things m2m. A networking machine—from airplanes or conferences, meetings or dinners, cocktail parties or receptions, Robin has consistently shown an ability to meet, greet, and connect with people and bring them into m2m’s world,” says m2m President & CEO, Frank Beadle de Palomo.
“She has used her skills, her passion, and her commitment to raising millions and millions of dollars for our mission. Those have been precious resources for Mentor Mothers, for the women and children we serve, for lifesaving services in African communities…spreading our power of health and hope,” add Frank.
It is impossible to list all of Robin’s amazing accomplishments at m2m, which have brought her to the White House, the U.S. Congress, 10 Downing Street, and the United Nations, to name a few. But when strung together over her time as a leader at m2m, they demonstrate a life’s work that has transformed millions of lives.
While Robin will be greatly missed, we are fortunate that this is a farewell, not goodbye. “I’ve told Frank and m2m’s North America Director Rebecca Silver Fisher that I will always be available to them, that I will continue to do all I can to build m2m’s future, and bring health and hope to families everywhere. I am retiring as Chief Connector, but never from being m2m’s Biggest Fan!” says Robin.
In retirement, Robin says she plans to spend more time with her family (and less time on early morning calls with the team in Cape Town!). Please join us in both thanking Robin for everything she has done for m2m and also wishing her the most amazing life in retirement! Also join us in thanking her for everything she will continue to do for and with m2m as an extraordinary Ambassador and Co-Founder.
“In her retirement, with more time in her control, her wings can fully be unfurled so she can fly even higher! Robin will never let m2m fall from her heart and we won’t let her even try,” says Frank.
As Mahatma Gandhi said: “There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my [our] heart[s].”