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SCOTT DREYER: Tribute to a Great American (VI): Robert Robison (1927-2021)

We will close out this six-part tribute to Robert Robison–“Uncle Bob”  to many including myself–with this eulogy his grandson Barton wrote and delivered at the memorial service. Barton is the intrepid fellow who accompanied his 89-year-old (!) grandfather on a trip to Australia and New Zealand.


Once, I was helping Grandad tow the old truck out of the back field. We chained it up, he hopped in the tractor, and I sat in the cab to steer as he pulled me to the front of the house. As soon as he started pulling, a humming noise started coming from the vents in the dash, followed by hundreds of very angry hornets. I immediately hopped out and high-tailed it back up to the house, screaming words I didn’t typically say in front of him while being stung half a dozen times. By the time he got up to the house, he was still laughing, and said, “you know, as soon as I saw you running, I remembered why I hadn’t moved that truck before.”

It’s hard to sum up Grandad’s life, but if I had to, I’d describe it as a “gift”. He gifted us with his laugh, rollicking and, if it was a really good one, with tears streaming down his face. As kids, he gifted us grandkids with quarters for picking up sticks in the yard or combing his hair. And as we got older, he gifted with enveloped checks at Christmas, always with grandma’s smiley face in the memo line until she passed. He gifted us with shelter—who here hasn’t stayed at the farm around holidays? Several people here have lived in one of his houses over the years, and some of us have had stints staying at home with him when we needed a soft place to land.

Bob and Bobbie Robison at the cherry tree: Love for a Lifetime

He also gifted us with his example. His devotion to grandma was exquisite and perfect; I can’t think of another couple I’ve ever seen as completely in love as they were. He set an example of hard work, sometimes maybe too much of an example that I’m sure caused many of us to groan from time to time as he had us dig up one more garden bed, till one more field, or dig out one more foot from the crawlspace. Sometimes his work set an example of what not to do, like the time he climbed a ladder with a chainsaw, me standing underneath to stabilize the ladder, and told me, “Now, if you hear me yell or it looks like I’m gonna drop something, just start running.” Late that day, he set a great example for how to graciously take a telling-to from my mom.

He gave the gift of life. To five men in this room, quite literally as their father. And to thousands of others around the world, through his work. A couple of times over the past year or so, I asked Grandad what he thought the meaning of life must be. His answer was always: to do something productive, and to make something that helps people. As a pharmacist, he was on the team that developed Vancomycin, an antibiotic that’s used every day in hospitals to fight infections, especially for drug-resistant bacteria like MRSA. He also holds a patent on Vincristine, a chemotherapy drug that serves as the base of treatment for most leukemias. It increased the rate of survival for some childhood cancers by 50 percent and heals more than 2,500 children per year from cancer. A conservative estimate is that more than 100,000 people have lived because of the drugs he helped make. He fulfilled his purpose. He helped people.

His final gift to us was in his dying. His death rolled in not like a storm, but a changing of the seasons. Many of us had time to visit with him, to tell him how much we loved him, and to prepare ourselves for his passing. He lived to be 94 (a Robison family record), and died peacefully at home in his sleep. What a gift.

We were spoiled rotten to have grandad in our lives, as a father, brother, uncle, friend, or grandparent. He was my favorite person in the family—sorry Don, I know you thought it was you. Grandad, I can’t even begin to explain how much I’ll miss you. I’ll miss our calls, our visits, and our adventures. I love you so much and I always will.

Robert Robison on his farm


Scott Dreyer in his classroom.

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