Leon G. Robinson, Jr., “Sonny”, born the eldest child of Josephine and Leon Robinson, Sr. on January 4, 1929, spent a majority of his life in Evanston, IL. Leon was educated in the Evanston public schools and accepted Christ at an early age as an active member at the Ebenezer AME Church. After attending West Virginia State University, he joined the Army, but ultimately returned to Evanston, where he felt the greatest sense of community and pride. Upon his return, Leon worked briefly with Commonwealth Edison, but quickly followed his entrepreneurial spirit. Because of the strong work ethic instilled in him by his parents, Leon, along with his parents and brother, founded Robinson Enterprises with two Mobile gas stations and a fleet of taxicabs.
Leon married Alice Phillips in 1954 and has cherished her ever since. Together, they were a mainstay in the Evanston community where they raised their daughter, Lynn. They enjoyed time spent with their “couples club” and the many social clubs they were affiliated with. Leon and Alice travelled the world together and enjoyed the company of friends in their Florida home, but their greatest joy was spending time with their grandchildren, Bryson and Brielle.
The early 1960s brought Head Start and voluntary racial integration, along with a need to broaden busing to Evanston schools. Robinson Enterprises transformed into a school bus operation serving the Chicagoland area as well as multiple states. The school bus company expanded to include motor coaches, eventually making it one of the first and largest African American-owned transportation carriers in the United States until its acquisition by a British-based company in 1998. Under Leon’s leadership, Robinson Enterprises continued to maintain a strong presence in Evanston’s residential, commercial, and industrial real estate market.
The success of the transportation business enabled Leon to give back to his community in a way that he felt was most beneficial. He felt strongly about creating opportunities for others and through Robinson Enterprises, was able to provide not only services, but also many jobs to Evanston residents. Leon opened a CDL driving school to train and license African American bus drivers as well as aid African American mechanics with on-the-job training and certification. This provided minorities the opportunity to obtain jobs that were otherwise unavailable to them. He served as an incredible role model not only to his family, but to those he mentored, helping to create wealth through business ownership, thus gaining the nickname “Godfather”.
Leon constantly gave back to the community that has given him so much throughout the years. During his career, Leon served as president and vice-president of the National School Transportation Association and was a member of the Illinois Bus Association, Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Rotary International, Evanston Hospital Board, Family Focus Board, Children Homes and Aid Society Board, National Louis University Board, Oakton College Board, and Evanston First Bank and Trust Board. Leon treasured the friendships he made as a member of The Midwesterners, The Royal Couturier of Snakes, The Chicagoans, The Network, and the Chicago Chapter of the National Association of Guardsmen, Inc.
His unrelenting dedication to Evanston and its residents has resulted in many awards and recognitions including: Evanston Community Development Corporation’s Outstanding Citizen Award, Evanston Chamber’s Community Leadership and Public Service Award, and NAACP’s Community Service Award. An honorary street sign on Emerson Street was named after Leon for his numerous contributions to the business, cultural, and spiritual life of the City of Evanston.
Above all his professional accomplishments, Leon was first and foremost a husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. He transitioned peacefully in his Florida home, surrounded by family and close friends, on June 7, 2019. He was preceded in death by his parents, Leon G. Sr. and Josephine E. Robinson; brother, Roy C. Robinson; and cousin, Valerie M. Mathison. Leon will be missed by his loving wife, Alice P. Robinson; daughter, Lynn Robinson Phillips; grandchildren, Bryson and Brielle Phillips (Terry Phillips); sister, Rita B. Turner; sister-in-law, Fannie E. Mayer; nieces, Lisa Lackey (Steve), Janet Kennedy (Jerry), and Sharon Robinson, a loving extended family and cherished friends. A special thank you to Stephen Phillips for his ongoing friendship and support. The Robinson family also wishes to thank Marissa de la Pena and Genalyn Tapis for the incredible care they have provided Leon during his illness.
Arrangements entrusted to Thompson Funeral & Cremation Services, Inc. Mr. Philip L Gillette ~ Funeral Director