Colleagues remember Robson as a pioneer in physical therapy

January 12, 2013 8:15:26 PM



STARKVILLE -- Kevin Randall has known Celia Robson for as long as he can remember.  


Growing up in Starkville, any time he visited the doctor he went to the Longest Student Health Center on the campus of Mississippi State, where Robson worked as a physical therapist. 


"When I would come in to get allergy shots and stuff like that I would sit in the waiting area outside of the physical therapy department," Randall said. "I grew up playing sports, too. I had knee surgery once, so any time I had issues I always saw Mrs. Robson for my therapy." 


Today, Randall works at the Longest Student Health Center, in the same department Robson did. He said Robson's compassion and honesty with her patients really drew him to the profession.  


"She is, without a doubt, the reason I got interested in physical therapy," Randall said. "Don't get me wrong: I learned a lot of anatomy, and a lot of techniques, but the biggest thing I learned from her is how to treat other people and how to care for them." 


Robson, along with her 23-year-old grandson and her caregiver, died in a tragic fire at her home on Bardwell Road on Wednesday. Investigators believe her grandson, Samuel Morris, and her caregiver, Geraldine Rice, died trying to rescue Robson, 92, from the fire.  


Robson's husband, George, was the only survivor.  


MSU history professor emeritus William Parrish, a close friend of the Robsons, said Celia Robson blazed a trail in her profession and was a mentor to many who followed in her path. 


"She has helped so many people," Parrish said. "You might say she is the mother of physical therapy around here. She is a person that deserves all the honor we can give her." 


A 1947 graduate of Duke University , Robson was not only the first physical therapist at the university, but the first physical therapist in Starkville. She came to Starkville after working under Dr. Jack C. Hughston, an orthopedist and a visionary in sports medicine at his clinic in Georgia.  


Robson met Hughston while in school at Duke, where he was her anatomy professor. 


Dr.. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon who as operated on everyone from Michael Jordan to Jack Nicklaus, trained under Hughston. If Dr. Andrews is the guru of today, Dr. Hughston was the guru then.  


"(Celia) had a wonderful relationship with Dr. Hughston," Randall said. "She would talk about things that Hughston was doing or had discovered when they were working together, and it's the same things we are doing today. Yeah, we might do them a little differently, but it's the same concept." 


Robson left her post as office manager and head of physical therapy at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic after her husband was hired as a history professor at MSU. The couple moved to Starkville in 1962. 


"For years she was it, the only physical therapist in town," Parrish said. "Many of the therapists up there today learned their basic techniques from her." 


When Dr. Robert Collins came to the Longest Student Health Center in the 1970s as -- in his words -- a young whipper-snapper, Robson had already established a tremendous reputation, and was a very well known figure in the community. 


"She was not really confident that I knew what I was doing, I don't think," Collins joked. "She taught me so much of what I know about sports medicine." 


Teaching was paramount in her life, Randall said, and the passion for teaching never left her. 


"It wasn't just about the profession for her," he said. "She loved the profession, but it was more about teaching people and making a difference with patients." 


Robson also taught swimming lessons to hundreds of children, both through the Red Cross and through private lessons.  


The water played a big role in Robson's professional career, too. She pioneered many techniques in pool therapy, and even had an indoor pool constructed at her house, which allowed her to see patients at her home. 


Robson retired from the university in 1988, but her service was far from over. She opened up her own practice in her home soon after retiring. 


She kept an active physical therapy license well into her 80s. 


"The biggest thing is she lived 92 years of a wonderful life," Randall said. "She influenced more people than I can ever hope to influence. She taught more people. She did more for people. 


"She was truly selfless.''