Chris Robino

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Natch Chris Robino (born November 4, 1899 in Sicily; died April 19, 1989) was known for visiting patients at area hospitals and nursing homes daily. He was recognizable for his silvery/grayish skin, caused by ingesting silver nitrate to treat mouth ulcers.

Robino's first job was pumping the bellows at a blacksmith's forge in Sicily at the age of four. His family immigrated to the Birmingham District, arriving on December 13, 1913. Before the end of the year, Robino joined his father in the coal mines at Dolomite. He was injured in a mine accident in 1917 and forced to find work outside the mines. For a while he owned a shoe repair shop, but was too prone to extend credit to be able to turn a profit. He later worked in his brother's news stand in the mornings.

Robino was a life-long member of St Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Ensley. He and his wife, "Mama Phil", the former Felicia Tombrello, had five daughters.

Beginning in the 1920s, Robino was plagued by mouth ulcers. When they were inflamed he could eat nothing but watermelon or bread soaked in milk. He visited doctors and endured lonely hospital stays in several cities seeking a cure. During one of those stays away from home he felt as if her were close to death. He prayed that if his health improved and he could rejoin his family, that he would work to insure that no one else experienced the same loneliness and distress he had felt. Eventually Robino found a doctor who prescribed a silver nitrate solution, which effectively eased the pain. He took the solution from 1924 to 1951, during which time the silver turned his skin a grayish color. The effect was permanent.

Robino fulfilled his promise to visit the sick. As a self-appointed hospital chaplain and some-time interpreter, Robino's gentle manner and devotedness earned him widespread gratitude and respect. Known as "Papa Chris", he checked in on patients at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, St Vincent's Hospital, Lloyd Noland Hospital and University Hospital. He also made daily visits to people in long-term care, such as John Buchanan Sr, the father of U.S. Representative John Buchanan, who lived at St Luke's Nursing Home. He also took prayer cards and copies of The New York Times to Governor George Wallace when he was undergoing treatment at the Spain Rehabilitation Center. He stopped, however, when those gifts went unacknowledged. Because he was so well-known and easily recognizable, people would ask him to check in on their friends and colleagues, which he was glad to do.

Later, when Robino was hospitalized for cataract surgery, the number of visitors who came to see him was so large that the hospital had to close off an entire wing. As soon as he was released, he had his granddaughter drive him on his rounds. Robino was presented with a "Good Samaritan Award" by Civitan International in 1980.


  • "Hospital Visits Become Life Work" (November 26, 1972) UPI/Albuquerque Journal, also published as "Elderly Man Spends Time with Patients" (December 6, 1972) UPI/Eureka (California) Times-Standard