Local politician works to improve the lives of children

Buckley Report
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GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Robin Britt has had a positive relationship with Guilford County children.

Britt grew up near Asheville and lost both of his parents by the time he was four; his mother to cancer, his father to tuberculosis.

But that didn’t stop him. His older sister raised him and his brother. Britt worked hard and won not just a Morehead Scholarship to UNC Chapel Hill but a ROTC scholarship as well. He served in the Navy and Naval Reserves and retired as a captain.

But most people know him for another job.

In 1982, he ran for the congressional seat that Greensboro legend Richardson Preyer had lost in the Reagan landslide of 1980. Britt won that seat back in 1982 and the Democratic Party hierarchy immediately saw his value.

Britt wanted to work hard and keep a low profile. He remembers the first time he entered the House chamber:

“I walk in, thinking about all the history and everything going on - all the people, all the leaders and all – and Jim Wright's staff assistant comes to me and says, 'The majority leader wants to see you.' I'm thinking, 'I just walked in and I've already screwed up,’” Britt said. “And when I saw Leader Wright, he said, 'Want you to second my nomination.'”

Because of his own challenges, growing up without much money, Robin has always been sensitive to that issue, but when he arrived in Washington, he discovered he still had a lot to learn.

“If you'd have asked me, as a tax lawyer, what percentage of children are in poverty in the richest country in the history of the world, I would've said, 'Two percent, three percent.' And it was 20 percent of all children in America,” inRobin said.

He lost his first re-election bid in the second Reagan landslide to Republican Howard Coble, who held the seat for the next 30 years. Although Britt and Coble disagreed on methods and politics, they had a respect for each other and a congeniality that is missing in most of today’s political climate in Washington.

Britt ran one more time for that seat in 1986 but lost by a mere 79 votes, one of the closest congressional elections in history.

“And it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, but it was very difficult at that time,” Britt said.

It freed him up to be Governor Jim Hunt’s Secretary of the Department of Human Resources where he implemented Smart Start throughout the state in the early 1990s.

“But very intentionally, we did not put it through the state government and its administration. So we formed a state non-profit that would receive money from the state but would operate the other, local non-profits in each county,” Britt said.

“Before everybody else did, he invested his time in young children,” said Susan Schwartz, whose work with children she and the Cemela Foundation support. “You'll see their parents when they bring them to school (at Britt’s Guilford Child Development) in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon, and you just get a sense of what a difference Head Start is making in their lives.”

And those relationships put a smile on Britt’s face after all these years working on behalf of children and their development.

“Not many people rise up from their death bed and say, 'How's the stock market doing?'” Britt said.

Meet Robin Britt and see what world leaders he’s worked with in this edition of the Buckley Report.

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