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VOL. 124 | NO. 59 | Thursday, March 26, 2009

Robilio Takes Helm of Bar Auxiliary

By Rebekah Hearn

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BYGONE DAYS: Victor Robilio Jr. stands before a painting of the Remagen Bridge, which was captured during World War II. Behind Robilio are other artifacts from his WWII memorabilia collection. -- PHOTO BY REBEKAH HEARN

Victor Robilio Jr. has been elected as the first male president in the Memphis Bar Auxiliary’s history. But that’s not all he has on his plate.

Robilio also is president of his late father’s company, Victor L. Robilio Co. Inc., which is an importer and wholesaler of fine wines and spirits. The company has been under Robilio Jr.’s watch since 2000, and his brother, John R. Robilio, also helps run the company.

In addition, Robilio is a published author of books on World War II history as well as a book on wineries around the U.S.

So for Robilio, accepting the bar auxiliary presidency was just one more challenge he said he looked forward to taking on.

Breaking the glass ceiling

The Memphis Bar Auxiliary is an organization for spouses of local attorneys and judges. It is a separate entity from the Memphis Bar Association, but it is affiliated with the American Lawyers Auxiliary, a branch of the American Bar Association.

The Memphis auxiliary is one of only two in Tennessee, according to the ABA. The other auxiliary is in Chattanooga.

The ALA was founded in 1958, and its mission is “to promote understanding of the American legal system through our national network of lawyers’ spouses,” according to the organization’s Web site.

Traditionally, the Memphis auxiliary members have nearly all been women since it first began. But Robilio, who is the husband of Judge Kay S. Robilio of the Shelby County Circuit Court, wants to change that.

Robilio said he’d like more of a partnership with other legal organizations such as the MBA, the Association for Women Attorneys and even the Southaven Bar Association.

“We’re trying to get more male members and trying to branch out, and we’re trying to get more (people) to open their minds and hearts to the whole community – more female members, more male members. … We’re also trying to reach out and get more African-American members,” Robilio said.

That is the tenet for his presidency, which will run until June 2010. Robilio currently is president of the auxiliary for the 2008-2009 year and he said he will be re-elected in the auxiliary’s June elections and will serve as president for the 2009-2010 year.

He was first asked to be treasurer – “which is a hard job,” he noted – and then he was elected vice president, which led to the presidency.

Working on improvements

Although soft-spoken, Robilio takes a hard stance on his belief that the auxiliary needs to open up for more and different members and branch out to improve its programs.

“I just need to continue to try and get better speakers and change the program up,” Robilio said.

Arnold Perl of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority and Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. both recently spoke to the auxiliary. These speakers are examples of the type Robilio wants to keep scheduling.

“We’re trying to upgrade our speakers, and we had a wine-tasting in December – just fun and frivolity – and we had a fashion show,” Robilio said. “But if (the fashion show) doesn’t work this year, I’m going to do something different. We might do a garden show, which is perfect for May.”

The auxiliary meets September through December and January through May.

“We (hold) about six or seven meetings a year,” Robilio said. “We’re kind of dormant in June, July and August.”

The next election in June will re-instate Robilio as president, and he’ll be working with Jessica Robinson, the vice president, Pat Britt, the secretary, and Dottie Hartsfield as the treasurer.

Robilio also wants to use the bar auxiliary’s small but workable funds to offer scholarships to law students. As a graduate of then-Memphis State University and as the husband of a judge, he said he believes this aspect to be very important.

“We can give $700 or $800 or $1,000 to help a student out,” he said. “They need help, with books and things like that.”

Also, the bar auxiliary will be serving as docents for the Shelby County Courthouse’s 100th anniversary, which will be in October. A committee headed by Judge Jennie D. Latta of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Memphis is leading the committee for the courthouse celebration.

As for his wife, Robilio said she has been nothing but supportive.

“She was so excited (about my presidency), and she’s just always loved the bar auxiliary and always supported it,” he said.

The Robilios have been married nearly 50 years.

More than just business

In addition to being president of the auxiliary, a Rotarian and engaging in other community activities, Robilio is president of his liquor and wine company at 3680 Air Park Ave. near Winchester and Getwell roads.

The business was founded in 1943 as Dixie Distributors by Harry Kabakoff, and Victor Robilio Sr. joined in 1950 as partner. In 1960, Robilio Sr. exercised his option to purchase Kabakoff’s share in the company and became the sole owner.

When Robilio Sr. died in 1986, Robilio Jr. and his brother, John, ran the company.

The building on Air Park Avenue houses all the wines, liquors and non-alcoholic mixes, with a shipping and receiving area and an entirely “green” warehouse in the back.

Covering the front office and hallway walls is Robilio’s collection of World War II relics, which range from newspaper clippings and photographs to actual Italian, Japanese and U.S. uniforms and weapons.

He is the author of “The Way It Was: WWII,” a collection of oral histories from survivors and veterans. Much of his collection comes from locals, who have donated items or given copies of photographs and papers.

The collection is mobile, and Robilio said he often takes some items, particularly the uniforms, to the library or other locations to give demonstrations.

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