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

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly (….)                   –Leviticus 19:31

In Parts I, II, III and IV, we have looked at the life of the remarkable Robert Robison, a member of “The Greatest Generation” we sadly lost last June.

Well into his 70s and 80s, Robison would discuss with me about my six-day trip in 1991 with two friends on the legendary Trans-Siberian Railroad from Beijing to Moscow. He was curious about the scenery, meals on the train, the sleeping cars, etc. Most remarkably, he commented how much he would like to visit China again since his last time there had been as a US Marine serving in a war-torn country in the 1940s. 

In fact, several times we visited he would float the idea of flying to Asia to take the Trans-Siberian railroad to Europe, where he could then visit his granddaughter who was serving as a Christian missionary in Germany. He suggested he and I travel together, so I could help as his translator with Mandarin Chinese and German. 

Alas, we never made that trip, but it was fun to talk about!

However, at the ripe old age of 89, Robison did make the trip of a lifetime with one of his grandsons…to Australia and New Zealand! During the 1970s, the Robisons had served as host family for one year to Peter, a foreign exchange high school student from Australia. They all hit it off so well, the family practically “adopted” Peter and they all kept in touch over the miles and decades. 

Peter had come back to visit the Robisons a few times, including to attend the funeral service for dear Aunt Bobbie. 

Then, it was time for Uncle Bob to return the favor and take Peter up on his standing invitation to visit Down Under.

Robert Robison riding a camel in Australia–at age 89!

So at age 89, without his beloved wife but still with his spirit of adventure and spunk, Robison and one particularly intrepid grandson flew across North America, across the Pacific, and across the Equator to visit Peter and his wife, taking in a tour of the famous Sydney Opera House, riding a camel on a beach, and lots more. Plus, “since they were in the neighborhood,” they included a trip to New Zealand too. 

A skilled videographer, the grandson filmed and uploaded regular updates of their travels to a spellbound audience here back at home. We were mesmerized by that world traveler: at 89!

The last time I saw Uncle Bob was at his 90th birthday shindig, held in his renovated 1800s barn. His gait had slowed, but his mind was sharp as he chatted and bantered back and forth with his company.

Ever the pioneer and optimist, at his 90th birthday party he remarked that, according to his research of his family tree, he was the first male in the extended Robison family to make it to the ninth-decade mark.

Speaking of optimism, Robison’s positive streak ran deep. In fact, his sisters have pointed out that as early as during their childhood in the 1930s (the Great Depression, by the way), Bob was the “Pollyanna” of the family, always looking on the bright side and marked by boundless optimism and enthusiasm.

Increasingly, modern science is pointing out strong connections between the quality of one’s thoughts and physical health. Specifically, aging is not so much an irreversible, chronological decline,  but rather a product of one’s thought life. That is why some people in their 50s and 60s seem “old” while some in their 70s and 80s seem “spry.”

Mark Twain put it this way: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” Author and Bible teacher Charles Swindoll explains that, in his mind growing up, his father always seemed older than his grandfather!

In this sense, Robison was much like my friend, colleague, and fellow Trans-Siberian Railroad travel buddy Terry Racher. Both men possessed a youthful verve and energy decades past the “normal” retirement time.

Robison and his wife emphasized family, and his five sons are a demographic anomaly in several regards. First, whereas many children grow up in church but later leave the faith as adults, his sons (and their wives) are all still active in church–in fact, the oldest son recently retired from the pastorate. Second, all five sons are still in their first marriage. A prolific lot, those five sons gave their parents 18 grandchildren, who in turn gave Robison eight great-grandchildren.

Robert Robison manning his tractor–at age 93!

Engaged until the end, he was receiving guests and taking phone calls from loved ones and joking with them up until just two or three days before he passed. As I walked through his kitchen and living room after his funeral service–flooded with great memories and thankful for his legacy–I noticed a small stack of recent newspapers on a counter. He had obviously been keeping up with the news until the very end.

A friend at church recently informed me that there is no such word or thing as “ex-Marine.” “Once you’ve earned that title, you remain a Marine for life,” he explained.

Therefore, Robison died a Marine, peacefully, in his sleep in his own bed at home. 

He left the world a better place.

Will we? 

Robert Robison’s obituary

Scott Dreyer in his classroom.


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