News Releases

Mom was a Mayor - Political science scholarship honors Robbie Barnes

December 05, 2007
When Lander University docent John Barnes moved to South Carolina, he and his wife, Robbie, were looking to get away from the harshly cold climate of their home in New York. After living for several years near Seneca, S.C., they relocated to Greenwood in 2002 to join the Wesley Commons retirement community. 

During their time here the Barnes family has forged a strong connection with the Lander community, a connection which started with John Barnes' involvement in the Lander docent program and has most recently included the endowment of the Robbie Barnes Political Science Scholarship.

A gift from the Barnes family in honor of Robbie Barnes' 75th birthday, the scholarship will provide financial support for a female political science major with a public administration emphasis who is in her junior or senior year of study. Contributors to the scholarship include John Barnes and the Barnes' three sons, their wives and children.

The scholarship not only exists to honor Robbie Barnes on her birthday but it also pays homage to her lengthy involvement in local politics back at their home in New York. Robbie Barnes served eight years as the town supervisor for Mendon, N.Y., a position which is roughly equivalent to mayor in the South Carolina political structure. Most importantly, however, the Barnes family hopes that the scholarship will help enable female students who are interested in politics to establish a strong foundation for understanding the political arena while developing the management skills needed to thrive in political environments. 

"We are both interested in seeing women with management skills move into positions of politics," said John Barnes.

The way in which Robbie Barnes got into politics is part of what motivated the decision to establish the Lander scholarship. She had no political or management training and as she puts it "I just sort of got in by the back door."

"We would be having dinner with everybody at the table, and John would start talking about things that were happening or not happening with the town," Robbie Barnes recounted. "And I could see that it wasn't really a good environment for our kids. We would sit down at the dinner table together but then listen to a lot of complaints. So I suggested to John that maybe instead of complaining he should go to some of the town board meetings so he could try and get things changed. He didn't have time but suggested that I go."

And Robbie Barnes did start to attend the town board meetings. She would go and listen, but she would also use the time to write letters to family members. The process of writing these letters made the board think she was taking diligent notes and hanging on their every word. 

"The first couple of times I took my lawn chair because there was no place to sit," said Barnes. "I didn't understand what they were talking about because I didn't know any of the issues. There was one gentleman, who I thought at the time was very old, who kept falling asleep. Eventually the other members got a little embarrassed by this so they urged him to retire and I was appointed to take his place."

What started as an attempt to better understand local political issues turned into a long political career for Robbie Barnes. She was the first woman to be appointed to the town's board and later achieved another first when she became the town supervisor. 

While Barnes was successful in pursuing her political goals, both she and her husband agreed that not having the educational preparation for the job made it more difficult, a sentiment which motivated the creation of the Lander scholarship. 

John and Robbie Barnes recently donated a rare, 6-foot-long Narwhal ivory tusk to Lander University. The tusk had been in Robbie Barnes' family for nearly 60 years. Pictured from left are: Lander President Dr. Daniel Ball, John Barnes, Robbie Barnes, Dr. Daniel Pardieck, Lander assistant professor of environmental geology, and Dr. David Slimmer, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. 

The Barnes family's endowment of the Robbie Barnes Political Science Scholarship is not, however, the only gift they have given to the Lander University community. 

John Barnes has also given Lander the gift of time as part of the Lander docent program, in which he volunteers where needed. He has been instrumental in recruiting other Lander docents from the Wesley Commons community and was recently appointed to the Lander Board of Visitors for 2007-09. 

And over the summer the couple gave Lander the gift of history when they donated a rare, 6-foot-long Narwhal ivory tusk that had been in their family for nearly 60 years. The tusk was an heirloom passed down to Robbie Barnes, a native of Canada, by her parents. Her father received the gift from a family friend who was a medical doctor for the Canadian government. The doctor had acquired it while working with Inuit tribes in Canada's Northwest Territories. He received the tusk in trade for his services. 

Of these gifts to Lander, John Barnes said, "We've always been interested in education, and Lander seemed to be interested in getting ideas from folks like us. Some places aren't receptive to outside ideas. I thought that Lander might be a place where we could make a contribution and have the results be meaningful."

Eleanor Teal, Lander vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the Lander Foundation, expressed her appreciation for the repeated contributions by the Barnes family. 

"We are very thankful for all that the Barnes family has done for the Lander community," said Teal. "I can think of no sweeter way to honor a loved one than to endow a scholarship in their honor. Such a precious gift will help deserving Lander students for generations to come."

For further information regarding Lander University scholarships, contact Lander's Office of University Advancement at 864-388-8350 or visit online at