When she returned to UMW last December, Irene Taylor Robinson ’47 wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. As the guest of honor at a luncheon, she had expected to talk about “High on Marye’s Hilltop,” the Mary Washington Alma Mater that she and the late Jean Crotty Machonis ’47 co-wrote. She was surprised, though, to be treated like a star by the younger alumni who’d come to see her.
“We wrote a little song, but I’ve never really given much thought to it,” the 89-year-old said. “I’m a little floored that people want to meet me, and they are so kind in what they say.”
Most of the fans had learned “High on Marye’s Hilltop” as freshmen at Mary Washington, where it is sung it at every commencement and homecoming. They’d sung it in dorms, at class meetings, and at Grad Ball.
“It’s part of the Mary Washington soundscape for students and faculty,” said Professor of History Jeffrey McClurken ’94, one of two UMW historians at the luncheon.
Robinson and her friend Machonis teamed up their senior year to represent the Class of 1947 for a song contest; it wasn’t to replace the then-Alma Mater, “Eager Voices Singing.” Robinson wrote the melody, Machonis wrote the lyrics, and the duo set out only to write “a singable tune” that would win for ’47.
Their classmates loved it and delivered an especially moving rendition the night of the contest; their song won first place. “My class was so enthusiastic about singing it that they sang it whenever they came together,” Robinson said. “And Jean’s words were so meaningful to us.”
“High on Marye’s Hilltop” grew in popularity after the composers graduated. New, younger students petitioned to have it as their Alma Mater, according to University Historian William B. Crawley Jr.’s University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History. The professor emeritus of history wrote that student leaders sent copies of the sheet music to all alumnae chapters. With their approval, it became the official school song in spring 1952.
Robinson made a career teaching music to middle schoolers in Northern Virginia. She and her late husband raised two children in Arlington, Virginia, before retiring to Lake of the Woods, Virginia, in 1993.
The accomplished piano player lives there still, accompanying shows, plays, and vocalists, and filling in when she’s needed at church. For 15 years she has had a standing Monday-night date with six gentlemen – The Lakers gospel group she leads and accompanies.
Robinson was in demand as an accompanist at Mary Washington, too. The music education major played for the glee club and the dance orchestra, which she managed. Often Dean of Women Nina Bushnell called on her in Seacobeck Hall. “She would ask me to play during dinner hour,” Robinson recalled.
Some of Robinson’s happiest years were at Mary Washington College, she said. She’s humbled and surprised that nearly seven decades later, generations of alumni and professors remember her song. “I’m so glad it’s still the Alma Mater.”
— By Neva Trenis ’00