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Barbara Robinson likes the feel of successBarbara...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Barbara Robinson likes the feel of success

Barbara A. Robinson never offers the usual advice for budding entrepreneurs.

"People always say do what you are good at," says Ms. Robinson, who owns two companies which have combined annual revenues of more than $2 million.

"I say, if you are going to go into business, you better do what you like to do," she says. "And if you like to do it, you will get good at it."

The 57-year-old Millford Mill resident was one of six women honored by Avon Products and the U.S. Small Business Administration last month for succeeding in business despite personal and professional obstacles.

Ms. Robinson suffered abuse from her now-deceased stepfather and was looked down upon for being born out of wedlock. Yet, she was determined to make it.

"I've always had this thing of not wanting people to feel sorry for me," she says.

Although it took 18 years, she earned a degree in business from the University of Baltimore. It took so long because Mrs. Robinson got married and raised a family.

From 1966 to 1985, she worked her way up from clerical positions in the Maryland court system to become a deputy administrator. Then, feeling unfulfilled, she walked away from it all.

She began STAR Associates in the basement of her home. The company trains welfare recipients to care for disabled people and offers training workshops for companies in interpersonal communication and leadership skills.

"I have always liked to do training programs, so I looked at what I liked to do," she says.

Her second company, started in 1991, SelfPride, is a nonprofit that provides residential care for the mentally disabled. Combined, both companies employ about 100 people.

Most of her immediate family, including her husband Jerome, a retired chemist, and three of her four children, work for her.

@ Linda Matheson would have been happy to win an award for having the highest grades in her class of nuclear medical technologists at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

But she was even happier to be chosen as the first recipient for an award based on "compassion, enthusiasm, a sense of humor and a blend of strength and gentleness."

That's the criteria for the $500 prize given in memory of Nancy Baraloto Hackel, a 40-year-old Harford County woman killed in a murder-suicide by her estranged husband.

"My grades are decent, but it meant more for me to win a human-related award," says Ms. Matheson, 28. "It also meant a lot that I was chosen by my classmates and the faculty."

The Nuclear Medicine Technology Program, sponsored jointly by the hospital and Essex Community College, trains people to administer diagnostic tests involving radioactive tracers. The classes are small -- Ms. Matheson says there are nine in the 1995 group of graduates -- and students can become close.

So when Hackel was killed in February 1994, her family and classmates decided to set up the Nancy Baraloto Memorial Prize. The class of '95 then voted by secret ballot on the first recipient.

Gratified to be chosen for the award, Ms. Matheson also was surprised to discover Hackel had been a hairdresser for 20 years, before deciding to study nuclear medicine technology. Ms. Matheson has been cutting hair since her high school graduation and is still working at a Towson salon.

Laura Lippman

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