Robb said he first arrived in The Woodlands fresh out of seminary with his wife, Bev, in January 1978, tasked with founding a new Methodist church in the Houston suburb.
“When the bishop assigned me and told me about starting a new church, I was very reluctant. I said, ‘I don’t think I had that class in seminary. I don’t know about starting a church,’” Robb said. “He said, ‘You’ll learn.’”
Robb said an advance advertisement of the church’s arrival in The Woodlands helped garner interest to form its initial congregation. Robb’s first days leading the church were spent knocking on doors to engage potential members.
In 2001, the church moved to its current Town Center location, which is home to a congregation of more than 14,000.
Robb said growth was a key focus for the church over the years as the local population surged.
“You have to do some things right to grow. It has to be a core value,” he said. “We moved here in 1978. There wasn’t a grocery store; there wasn’t a traffic light; there wasn’t a barber shop; and there wasn’t a restaurant.”
Serving The Woodlands
Robb also took an official role in the surrounding community. Beginning in the late 1990s, Robb served as a representative of local business owners on the former Town Center Improvement District taxing entity. Through that role, Robb and the TCID engaged in public-private partnerships and local development initiatives.
Working with former state Sen. Tommy Williams, Robb also championed a successful campaign to “set The Woodlands free” from the threat of annexation by Houston or Conroe until 2057 through legislation that was passed in 2007.
Robb maintained his presence in local politics with his election to The Woodlands Township board of directors following the 2010 consolidation of the former TCID and other local entities into the new governmental body. Robb spent time in roles from treasurer to chair before exiting local government in 2016, leaving the pursuit of incorporation studies and a possible election to future leaders.
Robb said he is indifferent to how incorporation is decided, but he continues to support the arrival of new residents and businesses.
“There have always been those who were ready at any point to lock the gate because we had the perfect community, but it’s always after they get inside. But I’ve always thought each stage of development has only gotten better and better,” he said. “I like the fact that we have restaurants ... [and] entertainment opportunities. I like the fact that we have all levels of housing economically.”
Passing the torch
Robb said he never planned on spending years of ministry and civic engagement in one place. However, he said his enthusiasm for the community and its rapid change over the years kept him busy.
“Hopefully it was by God’s plan, but it wasn’t by some design that I had. I did think that, ‘Here I am in a growing community, and if a church does a really effective job, perhaps the church can help affect the spiritual climate of that community,’” Robb said.
Now several years removed from official government work, Robb will retire as senior pastor at The Woodlands United Methodist Church on June 30 to be replaced by Mark Sorensen, a seven-year veteran of the church. Robb said he is confident the church will find success under its new senior pastor.
“With all sincerity I can say our best days lie ahead,” Robb said. “[Sorensen] is dynamic; he already has the DNA of the church within ... and he is so already loved.”
Nelda Luce Blair, a former township director and TCID member, said Robb’s guidance continues to be valuable in the community.
“The two words I would use [about Robb] would be ‘consensus builder,” Blair said. “People still look to him for that ... because he was the leader that he was.”