Potomac State Alumna Invited to The White House

Angela Barr at White House

White House Champions of Change    WASHINGTON, D.C. – March 23, 2015 – Angela Robb (third from left), along with several other individuals, spoke at The White House earlier this spring on a panel for ‘Champions of Change – The Fight Against Parkinson’s Disease.’ (Photo by Susan Biddle)

By Debi Swick-Cruse  -    Writer/Editor PSC Marketing and Communications

The minute I sat down to talk with Angela and Karl Robb, their mutual love and respect for one another was immediately evident – the touch of a hand, a look of admiration, the undeniable strength passing between them which was felt as well as seen.  After introductions, I asked Angela what made her want to attend Potomac State College (PSC). 

“It just seemed like I was destined to go there.  A friend from 4-H was attending Potomac State and she talked about what a great experience she was having, plus, my mom picked up literature from PSC during College Night at our high school and the next thing I knew, I was enrolled and moving into Reynolds Hall.”

However, the fact that Angela is a Potomac State alumna (’91) isn’t what brought us together on this sunny afternoon in Fairfax, Va.; Angela was honored earlier in the spring at The White House as a ‘Champion of Change’ for Parkinson's disease, where she participated on a panel to educate others about this disease.

According to the Champions of Change website, “The best ideas come from the American people. Everyone has a story to tell, everyone has a part to play.  All across the country, ordinary Americans are doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. We invite these Champions of Change to the White House to share their ideas to win the future.”

Although she doesn’t know who nominated her, Angela was recognized for doing extraordinary things in order to make a difference in her community and in the lives of others living with Parkinson’s.  “I'm very humbled and honored to be chosen as a Champion of Change.” said Angela. "Being recognized by The White House left me speechless.  I'm so thankful that The White House provided this opportunity to start a public conversation about Parkinson's."

Angela’s commitment to advocate for Parkinson’s disease began twenty years ago when she first met her husband of 19 years.  “Karl had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease five years before I met him, and while we acknowledge that Parkinson’s is part of our life, it’s certainly not the entirety of our life,” stated Angela.  This point was obvious as they talked about the many speaking engagements, both locally and nationally, that they often participate in, their community service involvement with the Parkinson’s Action Network and serving as care partners together.  Yet this is a very miniscule part of everything they do. 

Angela has presented the issues of coping with Parkinson’s on a daily basis at several events, including: the Davis Phinney Foundation Victory Summit in Richmond, Va. and Charlotte, N.C.; the World Parkinson Congress in Montreal, Canada; at Partners in Parkinson’s Conferences in the Washington, D.C. area; and at various other regional conferences.

Additionally, she serves as a co-leader with Karl for the Fairfax City Parkinson’s Disease Support group and is a Co-Assistant State Director in the 11th District of Virginia for the Parkinson's Action Network, as well as serving on the board of the Parkinson Voice Project.

Angela and Karl Robb

Angela and Karl Robb (Photo by Erick Gibson)

And if that isn’t enough to fill her days, Angela is president of TrueTip LLC which is the first patented finger and pen cap stylus for PDAs, touch screens, smart phones, POS, GPS, and any other electronic devices that use a stylus for input. She also serves as co-owner and creative director for RobbWorks and is a certified Reiki Master/instructor, which is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation. Reiki is a complementary therapy that has been helpful for many chronic conditions. Reiki helps with Karl's symptoms of Parkinson's disease and Angela's migraine headaches.  Additionally, Angela served as the publisher of “A Soft Voice in a Noisy World: A Guide to Dealing and Healing with Parkinson's Disease” which was written by Karl and encompasses the personal struggles and victories he’s accomplished during a more than 20-year journey of living with Parkinson’s.  

Though this story is about Angela, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s impossible to write about her without also talking about Karl, who holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has had his writing featured in  The New York Post. He has also appeared on BBC Radio, the CBS Saturday Evening News, and Japanese television, as well as several local Washington, D.C. television stations.  In addition to being a Parkinson’s advocate, he is an entrepreneur, writer, photographer, inventor, and has also taught Reiki classes. In 2008, both Angela and Karl were the recipients of the Murray Charters Award for Outstanding Advocacy from the Parkinson's Action Network. 

I would like to stay and talk for a few more hours, but I have a long drive ahead of me.  I want to hear more of her stories about being a first-generation college student in her family, her on campus experiences at PSC,  and how after graduating from Potomac State in 1991, she then went on to West Virginia University and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Stories about how they met – in a chat room, and after three weeks of talking online they had their first date, then nine months later he proposed in the car as they were traveling and through tears of joy she excitedly said, “YES!” 

Talking with Angela and Karl prompts me to think about life and marriage in general, which can be difficult enough, but throw a chronic illness like Parkinson’s into the mix and life can suddenly become overwhelming to say the least.  The unpredictability of the moment.  The uncertainty of the future.  However, Angela and Karl have managed to draw compassion, love, respect, and strength from one another in living with this disease.  Both are extremely optimistic in their views, yet they are realists as well.  Karl gently taps her arm as he looks at me and says, “I get my strength from Angela,” she then turns to him, “And mine comes from you.”  Their endearments are refreshingly breathtaking. 

From the hello handshakes to the goodbye hugs, I couldn’t stop thinking about Angela and Karl during the ride home and the impact these two have had on others, myself included.  As I continued my research, I believe Karl summed it up quite well in the May 12 post on his website:  “Parkinson’s disease has taught me so much about living! It has brought me a perspective, a purpose, and a focus! I met my wife and began more than two businesses because of this illness. Parkinson’s isn’t my friend but I won’t call it my enemy. I am truly grateful for what Parkinson’s has brought me and the friendships that I have made because of it!  I don’t tell people that I am fighting this illness, for that is too violent and negative. I prefer to say, “I am working with it and around this illness and am making the necessary adjustments to live with it.” 

During my research, I also learned that Angela is a member of The Church Society at Potomac State, a planned giving benefit named in memory of former president, Dr. Ernest E. Church, and his wife, Katharine, who often stressed the importance of private support to the College.  A fact, I feel certain, she was too modest to mention.

So this is Angela Robb – wife, advocate, caregiver, volunteer.  A voice for others, especially for those who can no longer speak for themselves.  A Champion for Change.