Lydia Marie Puccinelli-Robbins

Lydia Marie Puccinelli-Robbins

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Lydia Marie Robbins (Puccinelli) passed away peacefully and with grace on December 27, 2023 at the age of 93.  She was born in Pittsburgh, PA to Italian immigrant parents and was the youngest of three girls. With courage and perseverance, she paved her path and created a story.  She followed her dreams of living a fulfilling and wholesome life and aspired, among countless other things, to become the woman we all knew and loved.

  The first in her family to go to college, she briefly attended Carnegie Mellon University. Her love of art brought her to New York City when she was 24.  Alone, determined and without fear, she attended on scholarship the School of Art and Design at Cooper Union and graduated in 1959.  She also got accepted to Yale University where she attended classes in art history.  She later studied painting with Larry Day at the Aspen School of Art in Aspen Colorado.  She became interested in textile design as well, and within six years was designing textiles for large American textile firms. 

In 1966, a long-time friend told her about a new museum on Capitol Hill in Washington DC and thought she would be a perfect fit given her art background.  The founder, Warren Robbins, needed help.  Warren called Lydia himself and simply asked “When are you coming?”.  There was no contract or interview. She thought this new museum in a new city would be a nice change of pace, so she accepted and moved to Washington DC.  Needless to say, she blossomed. 

 Lydia’s titles within the museum grew from Designer, Curatorial Assistant, Registrar, Curator of Exhibitions and when the museum became part of the Smithsonian in 1979, she was named Curator.  She visited Africa twice, in 1974 and 1981, and these visits made her love for African art grow. She was responsible for over 75 exhibitions and designed 3 catalogues.  She later obtained her master’s degree in Art History. In 1974 she was awarded a Museum Professional Fellowship grant, jointly funded by the Smithsonian Institution under provisions of the National Museum Act and the National Endowment for the Arts, for a three-month study of European museums with significant African art holdings. She studied the collections, cataloguing and conservation of museums in Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, London, Oxford, Vienna, Munich, Rietberg, Cologne, Berlin and more.  

Lydia retired from the museum in 2000.  She spent her newfound free time traveling and visiting family and friends for several years but continued to keep in touch with Warren
and her friends from the museum and in Washington DC.  In 2008 Lydia and Warren were married.  “I think we should get married” were Warren’s exact words.  They were friends who trusted each other unconditionally.  Warren called then-Judge Judith Rogers and said “I want you to marry Lydia Puccinelli and me.”  When asked how long he knew Lydia, he replied “40 years”.  In her own words: “I married Warren because I wanted to pursue his legacy.  Warren married me because he trusted that I knew what needed to be done after he was gone”. With invaluable help from Brad Simpson, a friend and former employee of Warren’s, she continued to spend the last 15 years preserving Warren’s legacy and keeping it at the forefront of her drive while ensuring his collections were distributed to the appropriate recipients. 

 In January, 2023, Lydia was diagnosed with Stage 3B lung cancer deriving from a rare Her2 mutation.  She was happy to know that it wasn’t caused by the cigarettes she pretended to smoke in her 20s.  She was told by doctors that it could be treated and possibly cured, but that the treatment options would be aggressive.  She was also told that she “should” have some form of treatment, because dying with this type of cancer would be unbearable. 

Lydia gracefully declined any and all treatment and chose to live the remainder of her life without medicine or doctors.  That’s exactly what she did. Her last year of life was filled with regular visits from friends and relatives, Airbnb road trips, obviously with her favorite soft serve ice cream, with her niece (Gina)  and grand-niece (Amanda) to peaceful locations (she loved looking out over water), listening to audible books, binge watching movies and TV series and discussing books, politics and life with Amanda, watching Judge Judy reruns and nature shows, eating her favorite foods which consisted of nuts and oranges for breakfast (the Puccinelli Special) and green steamed vegetables for dinner. She continued to give more than her fair share of
wisdom and advice, as well as her support and encouragement for our future hopes and dreams we often talked about together.

She gained a new furry friend, Jasmine, who she doted on and who laid faithfully by her side at all times.  Her 2 great-grand-nieces, who referred to her as Grandma Lydia, loved to visit and video chat with her.  She enjoyed sitting back and watching the girls run around and play. She humbly obliged to playing all of the board and card games she could handle, and even let up on her once no-nonsense competitive streak just enough to let her great grand-niece, Vera, win.. but not without ruffling some feathers first. Vera particularly loved holding her hand and
being “her cane” because she knew Lydia didn’t like the thought of using one. Lydia frequently reminded us all that Vera was to inherit her cane as she knew both girls loved to play with it. 
She slowed down, took more breaks, stopped going out, but she never complained. She enjoyed sitting back and watching her loved ones around her. Most importantly, she never felt pain. 

She passed away with dignity, grace, comfort, and surrounded by love. The last year of her life was the best anyone could have hoped for. Lydia is survived by her niece, Gina Atkins, from Wesley Chapel Florida, grand-niece Amanda (Andy) Ocegueda, great-grand-nieces Vera Marie and Gianna Rose, and black lab Jasmine.  

Visitation will be held at Cunningham Turch Funeral Home, 811 Cameron Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314.  Thursday, January 4, 2024 from 2pm-4pm and 6pm-8pm.

 Committal service and entombment at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Canonsburg, PA on Friday, January 12, 2024. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Lydia’s memory be made to:
Capital Caring Health https://www.capitalcaring.org

Offer Condolence for the family of Lydia Marie Puccinelli-Robbins

Visitation

Cunningham Turch Funeral Home

811 Cameron Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314

1/4/2024

2:00pm - 4:00pm

Visitation

Cunningham Turch Funeral Home

811 Cameron Street, Alexandria, Virginia 22314

1/4/2024

6:00pm - 8:00pm

Burial

Queen of Heaven Cemetery

2900 Washington Rd, Canonsburg, PA 15317

1/12/2024

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Condolence Messages

  1. Gina says:

    I miss you. I love you more.

  2. Sharon House says:

    My friend Lydia was kind and generous, funny and smart. She was a gracious hostess to many friends with whom she also enjoyed museums, theater, the movies. Lydia enjoyed her Capitol Hill neighborhood and her neighbors enjoyed her. My condolences to Lydia’s family and her other friends who like me miss her, but have good memories of the times we spent with her..

    • Gina says:

      She often spoke of you and the fun times shared. She held you in high regard. I never met you but I know you’re smart and kind and funny, because that’s the picture she painted of you. :)

  3. Holly Laffoon says:

    I first met Lydia in 1980 when I started work at the Museum of African Art. She always had a calm presence. Carried herself with dignity, and a good sense of humor. May you rest in peace, Lydia.

  4. Elaine M Goodman says:

    Lydia and I were friends for twenty years. We shared good and bad times, many dinners, birthdays, celebrations before and after her marriage to Warren Robbins. We laughed a lot. She leaves an enormous hole in my life. I am so sorry she is gone, but know she left us on her own terms, surrounded by loving family. May she rest in peace.

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