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SCOTT DREYER: Tribute to A Great American (IV): Robert Robison (1927-2021)

The days of our lives add up to seventy years, or eighty, if one is especially strong.              — Psalm 90:10a

In Parts I, II, and III, we have looked at the life of Robert Robison, a remarkable and dearly loved member of “The Greatest Generation” who passed at age 94 in June of this year.

For most of my adult life–that is, the past 29 years–“Uncle Bob” was already past age 65, when most people start retiring and slowing down. 

But Robison would have none of that! 

Even into his 70s and 80s, Robison remained spry and engaged. He was a role model for successful aging.

Many summer weekends he and his wife whom he adored, Bobbie, would host family reunions at their farm in Greenwood, Indiana. And when you consider Bob and Bobbie had five sons of their own–all married with multiple children–plus Bob was himself second in a family of six–you realize family reunions could include lots of people. Many folks would be reluctant to host an event with, well, hosts of people, but the Robisons stepped up and offered such gatherings for many years.

Next to their house was a renovated barn from the 1800s complete with electricity and plumbing, so it was a perfect venue to set out the food and let guests find relief from the Midwest sun. 

Most of Indiana is flat, but their home was on a small knoll offering a sweeping view of their farmland, decked in verdant corn. Afternoons at those reunions were spent enjoying a smorgasbord that all the relatives had brought. The adults sat in folding chairs talking and laughing, while Robison gave his grandkids and great-nephews and nieces rides in the wagon behind his lawn tractor. In between wagon rides, the kids played cornhole for hours. As twilight fell, you could see the lights of Indianapolis twinkling to the north.   

In addition, Robison provided consulting to two pharmaceutical companies–Eli Lilly and Cook–up until about the age of 80. Those gigs came after his 52 years of full-time employment as a pharmaceutical researcher. On top of that, he also oversaw his successful farming enterprise spread over six Indiana counties for many years past “normal” retirement age. 

Shortly before he passed away, he was commenting how much he had enjoyed and missed those consulting phone calls. 

He kept his mind sharp and kept up with modern technology and world news.

I remember several summers visiting him at his Indiana farm when I was back visiting from Taiwan in the 1990s. At that time, the internet was in its infancy and he would have been around 70.

Robert Robison on his farm

Whereas many septuagenarians despise “newfangled” things, Uncle Bob embraced them. 

In his living room back then, Robison had a monochrome monitor with green text on a black screen that reported real-time farming news and updates. At any given moment, it streamed the current market prices for corn, soybeans, pork, etc., plus current events that could impact farm prices and demand, like floods in Argentina, droughts in Australia, or bumper crops in France.

Many times as he would walk through that part of the house, he would stop and glance at the screen to see what was new. Once he took a look and reported to me with pleasure: “Taiwan is buying x million tons of soybeans,” which of course would boost profits for US farmers. I remember thinking at the time: “I wonder if some of the soymilk or tofu I consume in Taiwan comes from one of Uncle Bob’s farms?” 

To be continued….

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

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