HENNING – It’s been 10 years, 352 days since Paula Croom Robinson and Judy Robison Spray were murdered while working at the Henning Post Office.
Michael Robinson, Paula’s husband, has counted, he said in a touching speech in her memory Tuesday as the post office was renamed for the two women who lost their lives there during an armed robbery on Oct. 18, 2010.
In the years since, the community of people who investigated and prosecuted the case has never forgotten the women.
Congressman David Kustoff said four years ago he and former U.S. Attorney Mike Dunavant had a conversation about the murders and how the women could be remembered.
“[I asked] if there was anything we could do that would be appropriate and deserving so we could honor the memories and the lives of these two brave women. And so I spoke with local leaders, I spoke with my colleagues in Washington, and I worked to sponsor a bill to rename the post office here,” he said.
The measure takes an act of Congress and this bill, introduced by Congressman David Kustoff and co-sponsored by the Tennessee delegation, was passed unanimously in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate and signed into law late last year.
“The community of West Tennessee will never forget that these two women gave their lives for public service and by renaming this post office and dedicating this plaque we will always remember their lives and always remember their strong dedication to our community.”
There was no shortage of tears as Paula and Judy’s families spoke to the crowd of former U.S. attorneys, mayors, law enforcement, United States Postal Service officials, and other community members in attendance.
Michael wiped tears as he shared a little bit about Paula and read a poem he’d written for her. Judy Lumley, Judy’s oldest daughter, spoke about how selfless and humble her mother was in life and the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren she’d never be able to meet.
Dunavant, who was the district attorney who prosecuted the man who killed Paula, said the tragedy had a widespread effect.
“Almost 11 years ago everybody with a badge in West Tennessee came running to this scene, and it was horrible,” he said. “And it didn’t just shake the Robinson and Spray families, it dramatically affected Henning and West Tennessee and the United States Postal Service and all of the law enforcement agents that dealt with that case, who investigated it, who prosecuted it, who ultimately solved it and I was honored to be a part of it.”
One of the most poignant parts, he noted, was the focus was on the correct place.
“We have not said the name of the killer once today. We finally understand, 11 years later, that the most important person in the criminal justice system is not the criminal, it is the victim. And so this is a fitting tribute and a wonderful honor to memorialize these victims and to remind people of this community that they can heal by focusing on the victim and not the criminal.”
Paula graduated with Covington’s Class of 1995. She was a carrier in Ripley first, then a sales and service associate in Henning. Her death left her husband to raise their children – Mia was almost 8 and DJ was almost 12 – who are now adults who’ve spent more than half of their lives without their beloved mother.
Michael wanted those who may commit murder in the future to think about what they’re taking away.
“I know you’re not compassionate or you wouldn’t be doing things like this, but think about the families that you’re ruining – kids, husbands, sisters, daughters, mothers – before you do acts like this,” he said. “The loved ones that’s gone it doesn’t affect them, they’ve gone on in glory to be with God, but us left here … it’s tough to try to live our lives.”
Paula’s sister Nicole Baker said even though it’s been almost 11 years it’s like it just happened.
“There’s nothing you can do to bring them back but all you can do is continue to honor them and keep their memory alive in a positive and productive way.”
Both families said they were “happy but sad” to be at Tuesday’s ceremony.
“Smiling, big time,” Judy said when asked how her mother would have reacted. “She’d be happy and she’d say, ‘I can’t believe they’re doing all of this for me …'”
Nicole said it was bittersweet.
“I’m thankful that this day has finally come and Paula and Ms. Judy are both honored here today.”
Michael said Paula, who loved her family more than anything, would have been thrilled to see all of the family come together for the ceremony and share memories.
“I know right now she’s smiling,” Nicole added. “I know she’s up there in Heaven just laughing at just seeing us all together, celebrating and honoring her through all of this … it’s bittersweet, but it’s a good day.”