When Robyn Thomas is not climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, or taking her two kids to Lake Tahoe skiing, she is being awarded “Woman of the Year” for her continued fight to prevent gun violence in the United States.
“I’ve always been immensely impressed by Robyn’s ability to successfully raise two great kids, passionately advocate for smart gun laws and run such an important non-profit,” said Rhonda Slavik, close friend to Thomas.
The 40-year-old executive director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, before moving to the United States at the age of six.
“I am a 4th generation South African, born and lived there until my parents immigrated to New Jersey,” said Robyn Thomas.
Thomas describes herself as having “dual hometowns”; first it was Johannesburg, then New Jersey, New York and now San Francisco, which she has called home for the past 12 years.
When asked why she made the move from the East Coast to the West Coast, Thomas said, “I was a lawyer in a big law firm in New York City, I was working too hard and not getting enough nature – I decided that I need to make a change and moved to San Francisco, partially for me because it’s the perfect combination of city and outdoors.”
Thomas received her undergraduate education at Duke University before receiving her law degree from the University of Miami, Fl. in 1999.
“[Law] was something that I knew was good fit for my natural skills, which include public speaking and writing, but I always believed in trying to make a difference – using your life and career to make the world somehow better,” said Thomas.
“[Thomas] can act strategically, flexing her attorney muscles when needed, yet always maintains a calm demeanor. Her ability to speak articulately on this complex issue is impressive,” said Cari Napoles, director of development at the Law Center.
Before making the move to social justice, Thomas worked with plaintiffs in class action lawsuits as a way to represent the consumers and average people against the powerful will of big corporations.
Thomas believes that her work now, at the Law Center, is the perfect medium for all her interests and skills, “It’s a nice combination of legal work and the intellectual aspects of law without having to spend so much time deeply immersed in the briefing,” said Thomas.
The Law Center’s work is mainly focused on the Second Amendment litigation and viewing and accessing the legislation from a very legal perspective.
Thomas’ field of work has become even more crucial and in-demand in the past few years due to the multiple mass shootings that have occurred throughout America. The mother-of-two believes that, for most people, gun violence seems really removed from their day-to-day lives unless they or their community is impacted.
“When it’s a movie theatre, a children’s classroom or a school, I think that people are able to relate to it because they can see that a movie theatre is somewhere they go or like me, they have a child in first grade,” said Thomas.
For Thomas, working in her position in social justice can be an unrelenting fight everyday, mostly without any immediate change or gratification, so when she is recognized for her daily feats, it brings her passion for her work into perspective.
“I think [Robyn being awarded Woman of the Year] is really an additional feel of support – the kind of work we’re doing here is not easy work and she has a national profile now and to know that she also has support in her local community really adds an extra kind of level of creditability,” said Law Center’s Director of Finance and Administration Ellen French, who has been working with Thomas for eight years.
The “Woman of the Year” award ceremony was held on Mar. 4 at City Hall and was presented on behalf of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors during their weekly Tuesday meeting.
“I was so honored [when approached with the “Woman of the Year” award], I think part of it is because there aren’t a lot of woman in positions of power still in the world today – being recognized as a woman doing this was really powerful for me,” said Thomas.
Thomas, who is the third female executive director in the history of the Law Center, believes that a woman’s intuition and empathetic qualities shines a whole new light in a profession as prominent as social justice.
“As women gain more positions of power across the board, hopefully it will lead to a kinder and gentler world on every level,” said Thomas.
In between her appearances on MSNBC to discuss gun violence after tragedies like the shooting in Newtown, Conn. and traveling to Washington to speak to political representatives, Thomas enjoys her morning runs along the bay near her home in Pacific Heights.
“I travel quite a bit and not just for work but personal. I love traveling to really obscure destinations and I’m actually planning to climb Aconcagua [the highest peak] in South America,” Thomas said.
While traveling to these “obscure” locations, Thomas likes to collect and bring back sand from all the 50 countries she has traveled to date.
“We share a lot in common as non-profit professionals and mothers of young children. Our daughters are the same age actually, so we connect on many levels. Robyn’s skill set as a professional, as a mother, and a friend is remarkable,” said Napoles.
These days, most of the activist’s interests revolve around her 7-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
“[I like] getting my kids outdoors because we live in the city, so we do a lot of road trips on the weekends, whether it’s up to Sonoma or to the beach in Santa Cruz,” said Thomas.
Thomas also enjoys reading, both professionally and leisurely, and has been said to be a great cook by her friends and colleagues. “[Robyn’s] a fantastic hostess and often spontaneously invites friends over for a great meal she’s cooked,” said Slavik.