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Hill Talk: Capitol Hill Mourns Community Leader

The death of Capitol Hill activist, businessman and entrepreneur Bruce Robey earlier this week has sparked an outpouring of tributes and memories from across the community. Robey and his wife, Adele, were prominent on the Hill development scene for years and are perhaps best known for founding the Voice of the Hill Web forum and newspaper and the H Street Playhouse.

Friend and fellow activist Don Denton recalled meeting the couple in 1975, when they were running their first business, Robey Graphics. Denton said he and Bruce Robey became friends quickly, bonding over the shared experience of being Vietnam-era veterans.

“The businesses they started, they were more than business operations. They were investments in the community,— Denton said. “Businesspeople like that, they’re there, but they’re not as plentiful as you’d like. He was one of the good ones.—

Denton noted that after owning Robey Graphics, the couple opened Phoenix Graphics, a desktop publishing company. They later decided to try their hand in the media, developing Voice of the Hill as a Web forum before adding the component of a monthly newspaper.

Before the historic Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street Northeast was renovated by now-Atlas Board Chairwoman Jane Lang, the Robeys worked with other community members on an initiative to restore the old performance space and make it a functioning establishment again. They were unable to buy the theater but remained committed to developing the H Street arts scene. The Robeys opened the H Street Playhouse, where two theater companies are now in residence.

Bruce Robey “was trying to find a way to bring the arts to H Street,— said Anwar Saleem, executive director of H Street Main Street. “I think his vision was right and it was on time.—

Tributes from colleagues, D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells and multiple bloggers have sprung up online in the days since Bruce Robey’s death. Richard Layman, who writes the Urban Places and Spaces blog, first met the Robeys in 2000 when they were involved in the Atlas theater project.

“In the context of Capitol Hill, he was part of the establishment,— Layman said, but Bruce Robey was also always “for the underdog.—

Bruce Robey was well-connected throughout the Capitol Hill community, but that never made him seem disconnected from his goals or the people with whom he worked, Layman said.

“The way I think of him is someone who can wear a tuxedo or be a smartass with you,— he recalled.

Layman and Saleem spoke highly of the Robeys. Layman described them as a team, while Saleem said he always had an “image of them as husband and wife. and as business partners, and [Bruce] as a family man.—

“There aren’t a lot of people who have had the impact that Bruce had, along with his stalwart partner,— Layman said.

“I’ll miss him,— he said wistfully. “It was fun knowing him.—

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