Remembering Robert E. Wylie Jr.

Robert E. Wylie Jr. passed away January 2, 2021 at the age of 70. For 12 years he was a beacon of kindness and grace at Mint Museum Randolph, where he served on the housekeeping team.

This spring, the Mint will dedicate a tree to him on the grounds of Mint Museum Randolph.

A native Charlottean, Robert graduated from Olympic High School. As a teenager, he fell for a cute girl named Mary who went to rival school West Charlotte High. She asked him to her prom. The couple went on to be married for nearly 50 years.

Robert and Mary had four children—Robert Wylie III, Dornetta, and twins Christina and Christopher—and later welcomed 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. They were all the beneficiaries of Robert’s love of cooking.

“He could cook anything,” says Mary. “Deviled eggs, barbecue ribs. Most people liked his slaw and his baked chicken.”

Before working at the Mint, Robert held a number of jobs at some of the city’s top country clubs. But his role at the Mint held a special place in his heart. “He loved everything about that job,” says Mary.

Robert E. Wiley Jr. (Right) Image Courtesy of Katherine Steiner

When Lisanne Smith, the facilities manager at Mint Museum Randolph, started her job five years ago, she was told that if she needed to know something, just ask Robert. She and Brian Gallagher, senior curator of decorative arts, both came to count on his warm “good morning” every day in the atrium, his kind, selfless devotion to his job.

It’s hard to quantify how much Robert took care of, says Joyce Weaver, the Mint’s director of library & archives. He did everything from transporting interoffice and external mail to setting up and breaking down for meetings and events, cleaning offices to mopping up spills from the leaky atrium roof—and all in a way that was usually invisible to visitors. “I can’t believe how many times he lugged bins of books from Uptown back to the library,” says Weaver. “He was an unsung hero, someone who didn’t want or need a lot of attention, but every day, took care of us, took care of the museum.”

Robert also had a sense of humor — and an undying love of Dallas Cowboys football. Guest services associate Sue Carver says she’ll never forget watching Robert sweep away a picture of former Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton with a broom labeled with a big Cowboys star.

“Robert was part of a special group of people I count on here at the Mint,” says Katherine Steiner, the Mint’s chief registrar. “I always knew that he’d be there to help me with anything I asked, but more than that, I counted on his warm smile. I counted on his presence. He was one of those solid people that warm your heart just by being there, by being constant.”

In March 2020, when the spread of Covid-19 forced the museum to close, Head of Family and Studio Programs Leslie Strauss was at Mint Museum Randolph, frantically gathering art materials to bring home. Robert stepped in to say hello. “We chatted for a bit and I worried over whether our many houseplants in the studios would survive a few weeks without us,” Strauss recalls. But she gave them a heavy watering and turned to leave. Then those days turned to weeks and weeks turned to months.

“When we finally returned to the classroom, we expected to find withered plants,” says Strauss. “Instead we found a table full of happy and healthy plants, having weathered their time without us.”

Robert had watered the plants the entire time they were gone.