Andrew Dys

'Miss Robbie' embraced her city, and we hugged back

Robbie Land prepares a pot of fried fish in July 2001. Land, known for years as the "Mayor of Baker Street," died last week at age 63.
Robbie Land prepares a pot of fried fish in July 2001. Land, known for years as the "Mayor of Baker Street," died last week at age 63.

The house is blue, the only blue one on the street. It was once destroyed by fire, probably started by scoundrels, then rebuilt by so many united by love and meatloaf.

Because it housed the one and only "Mayor of Baker Street."

Robbie Land, "Miss Robbie," the larger-than-life lady who started cooking at age 14 and fed a city.

She cooked at restaurants long gone such as Pete's Snack Bar, Tips, Baker's and many more, for almost 40 years around Rock Hill. All places where the customers -- cops, lawyers, construction workers and clerks -- would peek in to make sure it was her making the collards and the pork chops. She cooked for the students at Winthrop University for a dozen years. She cooked for church evening suppers. She cooked for shut-in neighbors and anybody with hunger. She raised her two daughters on Baker Street and fed anybody who needed a meal or a guiding hand. Land was so famous for her Sunday spreads that she was in this newspaper almost 15 years ago because she attracted so many neighbors the line would be out the door.

But Land's life will always be measured by standing up for herself and others on the little street off Ogden Road, where she had lived since the 1960s when she and her late husband, Sherman, a veteran, bought the little house at 360 Baker St.

She put up her hand to say "Stop!" when drugs invaded like on so many streets of her city. In the 1990s and later, when crack cocaine and drug dealers and the guns those dealers always carried swooped in, Land said, "No!"

Family recalled that so many times Land confronted people she suspected of dealing dope on the street where her grandchildren came in the afternoons after school. The street of her dreams. She accepted no excuses. She listened to no reasons from dopers.

"She would say, 'I am not having it,'" said a daughter, Rosalyn.

Land would let landlords know, and police know, too, family said.

Then on June 15, 2001, late at night, Land got up for a drink of water. Lucky for her, because she told the police something in a flaming bottle crashed through her bedroom window. Her house was destroyed, but she managed to get out alive.

The case never has been closed, Rock Hill Police Lt. Jerry Waldrop said.

"We always figured it was retribution for reporting drugs," said Land's son-in-law, Samuel Campbell Sr.

The house was long paid off by 2001, $196 a month for all those years. Of course, after the fire there was no insurance. Money made peeling sweet potatoes before a thousand sunrises, baking countless cakes and frying a million fish, gone in flames.

"She never regretted doing what she did," daughter Rosalyn said.

Campbell and Land's friend, LeRoy McCrorey, started to fix the house, a few boards at a time. Friends held fundraisers in the Sunset Park and Crawford Road neighborhoods, where Land was a legend. The Rev. Bob Porterfield, who knew Land from monthly evening church suppers -- she was one of the cooks, of course -- heard about the crisis, and the York Baptist Association heard.

A Rock Hill program for affordable housing found grant money. After about seven months, and the work of more than 50 volunteers who were strangers and neighbors, the still-serving Mayor of Baker Street moved back home.

"As generous and gracious a woman as I have ever known," Porterfield called Land.

Then, Robbie Land got cancer. She fought like a champ. Last week, Robbie Land died at 63.

But on her street, in her city, feeding others and shooing away the bad guys, what a life she lived.