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Stepping into the spotlight

By Scott Naugle | Photography by William Colgin //

A warm, soothing light washes gently through the abundant windows and envelops the senses. The glow is charged with a relaxed and encouraging energy, nudging one towards creativity and calm. The cerulean ceiling suggests the infinite possibilities of the sky; the red door invokes the passion of a caring heart; and the freshly painted white wooden countertops look like fresh, unmarked canvases of possibilities. The newly refurbished commercial building on Davis Avenue in downtown Pass Christian is shining again, ready to greet friends, family, and customers.

Detach this building from its physical, tangible moorings and reimagine it as a dream, the crisp clean vision of Dorothy Roberts. “I wanted a space to celebrate the creative process,” Roberts explains. “This is a business to channel the artistic experiences we all have.”

Welcome to Robin’s Nest in the Pass, an art gallery offering Roberts’ jewelry and the pottery and paintings of an exclusive array of artists. The gallery is a new venture for Roberts, who retired this past June from South Mississippi Regional Center, where she served as executive director. She had worked at the facility for 25 years, six of those as executive director.

“You never know where your life is headed,” she says. After an already full life, she is ready for the new challenge. “Robin’s Nest may be the next level of fulfillment in my life. It is a time of transition, directorship, moving back to my family home in Pass Christian, and opening my business.”

No stranger to life’s transitions, Roberts is divorced and is the mother of two daughters, Jessica McEwen, who lives in Texas; and Lauren McEwen Hinton, who lives with her husband, Brian, and their son, Ryan, in Long Beach.

She is, however, unfamiliar with being in the spotlight, a place usually occupied by her family. Her parents, Lucimarian and Lawrence Roberts, both now deceased, were well-known and beloved pillars of the community. Both sisters are public figures: Sally-Ann Roberts, news anchor at WWL-TV in New Orleans, and sister Robin Roberts, anchor of ABC’s Good Morning America. The women and their brother, Lawrence II, lived all over the world, following their father and his career in the U.S. Air Force, where he attained the rank of colonel before retiring in 1975 and settling in Pass Christian.

After Dorothy Roberts’ own retirement this year, there was no question she would return to the Pass. “It is my homage to our family’s love for the community.” It is a love that had to grow on Roberts. When her parents announced they would be retiring in Mississippi, right in the midst of civil rights unrest, Roberts recalls her response: “MISSISSIPPI?” But her parents carefully chose the town they’d settle in, and it was a good fit for the family. “We were drawn to the diversity of people. It had a small-town atmosphere with all folks walking and talking together. It continues to be the right place to be in this season of my life.”

The evolution of Dorothy Roberts from high-level businesswoman to gallery owner has been fueled by Roberts’ gaining intellectual freedom and embracing the courage it takes to create and find her place with art.

A friend recalls being in a boardroom in Gulfport nine years ago with others trying to get funding for what would become the Marsha Barbour Resource Recovery Center in DeLisle. Roberts was on the board that would grant the funding, and the friend recalls Roberts’ seeming rather stern and unemotional.

A few years passed, and the friend saw her displaying her jewelry at The Galleria, a gallery in Gulfport, and later at shows at Cat Island Coffeehouse. Roberts joyously took the time to explain each piece of jewelry she created. She smiled easily, recalls the friend, and seemed more true to her giving and generous nature.

“My jewelry is inspired by things I see. I cannot explain; I carefully and intuitively place pieces together. If it doesn’t feel right, I take it apart.” As she speaks, there is a brightness in her eyes, her voice quickens, and her passion is forefront.

A few months before opening her gallery, Roberts discussed the business with friends, who recall her exuberance as she described the décor and the floor plan and explained the name: “Nest is a nurturing word.” A nest is also an incubator, a vessel from within fosters birth. Metaphorically, Robin’s Nest may be viewed as Roberts’ artistic rebirth at this stage of her life.

Though her sisters have held center stage most of Roberts’ life, she is comfortable with her role as the quiet sister. “It comes with the territory. First, I was the colonel’s daughter, then Jimmy’s wife, and my two sisters have been in the public spotlight almost my entire adult life.” Roberts says her parents instilled a strong sense of self and helped her to recognize and accept her own identity.

“It is a tremendously rewarding part of my life to have two sisters who are so loved and admired,” she says. And though Roberts’ gallery has her well-known sister’s name, it was Roberts herself who, after a lifetime of saving, owns the business.

Anyone who understands art and business has no trouble believing Robin’s Nest in the Pass will be a success. As an artist, Roberts exudes a subdued inner happiness, overlaid with a tinge of stress in opening her own business. When she describes the building, her jewelry, and the other artists who will show their work in Robin’s Nest, she talks about the effect those things will have on people who visit Robin’s Nest. She understands that art is an experience and that her role is to match each visitor with the perfect item.

Roberts knows she could have gone anywhere and done anything after retiring, but she feels she is where she wants and needs to be. “The irony of all this is that I’m staying in Pass Christian,” she says. “It is the right place to be in this season of my life. This town meant so much to my parents.”