Gerald S. 'Jerry' Robinson 1920 - 2014
Jerry Robinson: Publisher, Writer, Golfer, Fisherman but most of all Father
By Patrick Robinson
Our publisher Gerald S. "Jerry" Robinson passed away May 30 at the age of 94. He leaves behind a legacy of newspapers, websites, a long history of service to the community and countless friends. He was a man of many talents and interests and through his publishing efforts and consistently positive outlook changed things for the better. But above all those he was a father to his five sons, Mike, Ken, Tim, Patrick, and Scott. When his first wife died in 1968 he went on to marry Elsbeth McDaniel whose own three children, Carla, Linda and Mike joined the family. He became their father too.
Presented here are the thoughts from the family members. If you have thoughts or memories of Jerry you'd like to share please email WestSeattle@robinsonnews.com or via postal mail 14006 1st Ave South, Burien WA 98168.
If you'd like to know more about this remarkable man, you can download his autobiography "Listen to your father" at the link.
His formal obituary is here:
As often as he could, Jerry Robinson "Tom Sawyered" those who loved him: his wife, his kids, his pals. He was a hope merchant.
We learned this early, the day he claimed he found a handful of shiny coins under the dandelions out front.
Three of us crawled the lawn for an hour grubbing up weeds. I think we brought in 75 cents...a treasure of nickels and dimes. We never knew we were working.
We felt like that later, too. Whether we were churning out copy for a Little League game under deadline pressure, or making calls on a gruff advertiser, he taught us to swim by dropping us in the river. That's the way he learned it, in the Sandy River back in 1928. Tossed in three times by his Irish dad...he solved the problem by walking underwater, climbing out downstream.
He's just done it again, irked by a sprained ankle and a mini-stroke that left him not quite as quick as he wished, so he stole away. He may be smirking right now, making his exit like a tap dancer who chose not to answer his encore.
He was a master of the art of diversion. Telling a self-deprecating story, the one about falling in the county dump, landing on an old set of box springs, he was hinting that you gotta be lucky. Breaking himself up, gasping with laughter as he spun a yarn, he showed us that a story was more than a stack of facts. He kept an eye on his audience, too.
His own dad probably told a few stories, but wasn't a campfire comic, more a lofty philosopher. After a brief hitch as an electrician at Boeing, our dad developed that gift by calling on advertisers in Kent and White Center in the 1950s. Behind his quick wit and upbeat attitude, he was driven by the fact that he had four kids to feed.
He also read business magazines voraciously, talked shop for hours with a few associates, and worked a 70-hour week for 40 years.
He was not all business, though. Calling himself a "wood butcher," he built porch swings for most of us, sweet wooden scooters for his grandchildren. They are still ridden, by a new batch of kids. He became a fine steelheader, thumbing the drag on frigid mornings on the Green. He worked on his golf swing religiously, spent many summer afternoons at Rainier, but even after hours on the practice tee, never shook his 16 handicap.
If you knew him well, you remember him best fumbling a toothpick or a matchbook or a salt shaker, trying hard to listen to the chatter at the table, half-distracted, curbing his twitchy nature to be polite, itchy to be on the move, tossing a shiny spoon to tempt a salmon, hunching over a putt, or coming up with a scheme to sell a few 2 x 5's.
We hope so.
Much of our relationship revolved around fishing. It started early, sometimes as early as 4:30 in the morning, when Dad would stick his fingers in my face and wake me up. "Get goin". The fish are waiting," he would say. At Lake Fenwick, we would push off in a creaky rowboat rented from the shop there, gliding into the shiny black water, keeping our voices low.
Dad would show us how to impale a worm on a small golden hook, then to lower the bait over the side into the mysterious lake. Dad would row and strategize about where the fish might lie, puffing on a pipe and smiling warmly and conspiratorially. We were fishing, together in a little boat, afloat and away from the madball world. It could not have been better. And in the lunch pail, a peanut butter sandwich wrapped in wax paper next to an apple we would share.
Another year, my older and younger brother and I went with Dad on Opening Day to Kelsey Creek, then a country stream at the edge of what is now Bellevue. It was stocked by the state with six-inch rainbows. Dressed in translucent Army surplus rain ponchos, we whipped the water to a froth attempting to get our limit to make our father proud.
At 14, Dad took me to Neah Bay to fish for salmon.
At 16, he took me to the Green River to fish for steelhead.
At 18, Dad and I fished the Green, Bogachiel, Satsop, Humptulips, Dungeness, Hoh, Queets, Clearwater, Hamma Hamma, Duckabush, Dosewalips rivers and just anything other than a wet washrag where a fish might be lurking.
One hot summer day on the Green near Kanasket, we fished a narrow slot across from where some kids were jumping into the river from a low cliff on the opposite shore. They splashed for 30 minutes or so, then left. We waited, enjoying a little picnic. Dad threw a Mepps spinner into the water, quartering upstream, and let it sink. A few second later, he hooked and landed a bright 7-pound summer run steelhead.
He did something similar on the Snoqualimie River on a snowy day a year later.
He was a master fisherman who learned his skill as a boy fishing in a slough in Portland with a willow branch and string for a line.
Dad used these outings to teach me about life, about the birds and bees, both literally and figuratively and about how to be a man. He taught me how to understand and respect the natural world and animals and to do the same with the two-legged type.
Nothing in life compares with a call from Dad asking "Do you have your work done? I thought we could pester some fish somewhere."
And nothing makes the heart feel as empty as knowing that call will never come again.
Near the end, bedridden, I told him I would see him tomorrow. He looked up at me and said "My fishing buddy," and began sobbing.
"Little people rule the world," he once said to me while we were riding in the car along Ambaum Boulevard, near the old Flame tavern at 128th. I was 14 and barely 5 ft tall. He wanted me to understand that "small" should not be a deterrent to success. Earlier, as a boy of 10, he took me to Holy Family Church in White Center for a gathering. "You can tell a lot about the character of man by how he shines his shoes," he advised."Front AND back", he added. I spent most of that evening staring down at shoes in the room. To this day I shine my shoes front and back but there was a subtle hint that went deeper with me. He meant I should keep order in things people DON'T see.
I learned to golf when I was sixteen. I asked to play nine with him. He said "no, not until you get better". I was deeply hurt at the time. It was only after I got better that I understood why he said that. He wanted me to cut my own cloth. He wanted me to learn from someone better than he was. He hired me at age 12 to work in the office as a janitor and delivery boy. I was privileged to hold many jobs back then. He was a great teacher in that respect but he never mastered golf with enough confidence that he could make me better. I did get better and had many, many fun rounds of golf with him, so often that he once whispered that I was his favorite person to play golf with, including all his friends. (I beamed with pride but he knew I would.)
At 16, I did not get a driver's license. My two older brothers had a few mishaps learning to drive.That put my aspirations on the back burner in dad's eyes. At 17, I was a senior in high school and ready. Dad was a good driver and knew he could teach me. We had a '59 Buick with an automatic tranny. I was pretty good after three or four lessons around the White Center area. Then he threw me a curve ball. A week before my driver's test he bought a new car. Not just a new car, he bought a sporty fire-engine red1962 Studebaker Gran Turisimo with a powerful engine and something new to me; a stick shift. I had trouble telling time on a watch face much less figuring out the "H" pattern on that small knob. My test was a frightening experience for me and the tester.
I barely passed. Months later, when I moved that shiny new car out of the garage to impress April Ventoza, my beautiful neighbor, I got too close to the garage support and scraped the passenger side badly. I trembled with fear over my first "accident". I mustered( up) the courage to admit I had created such a terrible scratch on his new car.
Dad came out, looked at the scratch and shrugged his shoulders. "It's fixable", he said calmly. It was another lesson. Stay cool and figure out your next move. He quietly denied me access to the car for a few weeks though. I guess he wanted me to think about being more careful.
I was eager to please him but some lessons come harder than others. He invented a special certificate he called "Attaboy" and had them made on a press in the back shop. They were given to staff members for excellence in their jobs. I asked if I could learn to make them. He sent me back there to learn from the union printers. After a short primer, I thought I was ready. 10 minutes into my work I was coasting along, even attempting to go faster when I missed my mark with the hand-fed motion I had learned. The press clamped down on the fingers of my left hand so hard I screamed like a baby. His furrowed brow sent me another lesson...don't get cocky.
Dad had a morning routine of checking the mail, answering calls and quietly heading for the Epicure Restaurant for a cup of coffee, with cream and sugar. His long stride was twice my step, forcing me to have to trot to keep up on those daily visits to his "second office". He was often "paged" by the waitresses so manager Jim Willis had a telephone installed in Jerry's favorite booth to take phone calls there instead. Resourceful..yes, and it was an act of kindness for Jerry's loyalty. Jim loved seeing Jerry come in, even if it was just for a cup of coffee and a donut for the kid.
I do not recall him as anything but humble. He, more often than not, extolled the virtue of others and claimed he had little to do with his own success. He always said he was lucky. Luck has a way of "finding" people who put themselves into a position to receive it. Dad positioned himself with kindness. The rest just followed the course.
My dad loved words. He loved their power, and capacity to change people’s minds, make them laugh, move them, inform them and keep them coming back for more.
All my life he used words to tell our family stories, share his views, inform his many readers and most often to make people laugh with his always self deprecating humor.
He bought the White Center News in 1952, and I was raised in the newspaper business. I learned quite literally at his knee. He would read us stories from Bartlett’s Bedtime Stories, tell us all the tales of his treasured youth, sometimes adding details or names that sounded goofy and made up but that he insisted were real.
My father wrote a newspaper column every week, called the Borderlines that would tell his view of life in the community, celebrate local heroes, mention many local names, and really represent himself as the voice of the neighborhood. He mattered. A lot.
The whole town knew him and loved him because he so dearly wanted to be loved. He was exceptionally proud of the fact that he didn’t have a single enemy in life and through his actions and yes, words told me and all my brothers to always try to be compassionate toward others. Everybody has their own struggles.
He was the most optimistic man I’ve ever known. His famous catch phrase was “Maybe something good will happen” and he was right so often it was amazing. Probably because his attitude shaped events to make good things happen.
Most people don’t know that he was an incredibly innovative guy, taking chances on things that were truly ahead of their time. He was the first to bring what is called Web Offset printing West of the Mississippi when he and partner Al Sneed bought a press and installed it in Burien in 1957. That technology would later become the worldwide standard for newspaper printing. He got involved with machines called Justowriters that would automatically output text in proper columns for newspapers. He was among the very first to introduce Optical Character Recognition technology to word processing when he invested in machines that used a special IBM Selectric typewriter ball to print a specific font that would convert typing to computer text. This was in the mid 1970s. Around that same time he got involved with the very first FAX machines. In the early 1980’s after briefly exploring Low Power Television, he funded the creation of a company in Seattle first called Artronix which later became Digital Post and Graphics. It used a digital paint system and other advanced tools to edit video all from computers at a time when video was still being handled only on actual video tape. That company in 1986, became the very first all digital non-linear video and audio editing facility in the world. I know because I worked there as the VP of Sales. It was successful but we sold it in 1988. It operates still today known as Modern Digital.
I also had the opportunity to transcribe and edit and design his autobiography called Listen to Your Father. It’s a collection of short stories, many funny, some deeply moving, but all worth reading for his insights into what life was like in the depression and how he turned a life of poverty into a life of dedication and success.
He was also an excellent photographer, an all time interviewer, a very good public speaker, a salesman good enough to grow one newspaper into five, a good fisherman, capable golfer, goofy carpenter, and so much more. But for me he was my hero. He came to my personal rescue countless times. Driving me to school when I was late (very often), tasking me with projects he knew would be good for me, helping me financially, but more than all that, just being an anchor of a man with an unfailing positive outlook on life.
I thought of him all my life, and always will as a truly great man.
He was incredibly loyal, faithful, funny, hard working, brilliant, and loved to read. Our house was stacked high with books, because he read constantly. He lived a life of words.
So these words are for him.
Thank you for being such an incredibly good father. You were what men should be. You were what I’m trying to be every day. I love you. I miss you. I will work to honor you and the example you set for the rest of my life.
As the fifth child of my Dad, I didn't get as much in the way of the fishing adventures that he shared with my older brothers, but I did get my own one-on-one time with him when we worked on cars together. Dad found an old Model A Ford for sale from a neighbor and we spent many evenings together after dinner in the garage, hammering and painting and busting our knuckles. I learned the importance of patience and perseverance and the feeling of pride that came with making something beautiful out of a rusty metal heap. Later, we built a brick wall together in the side yard, and he showed me how to mix mortar to the perfect consistency and how to use a trowel to lay the mortar in such a way that the rows of bricks kept their edges close to the string line.
I was a copy boy in the newspaper office in White Center by the time I was 8 years old and sometimes when Dad was not in, I would hop into his chair and plunk away at his old Underwood typewriter.
He found one of my efforts, a poem I wrote about pollution, and ran it in the paper. Later I held other posts in the company from janitor to runner and photographer to darkroom film developer and circulation manager. Eventually I got into the printing end of the business and spend 16 years in the pressroom that published all our papers, finally coming full circle to writing a regular column for the Federal Way and Burien papers.
Dad counseled and pushed me to do my best at all times and in this way I gained an appreciation for the many different skills needed to run a newspaper.
Those lessons have stayed with me throughout my life, working hard at anything I do until it's as good as I can make it, and his deep love of people and of words continues to seep through.
I know you're proud of all of us, Dad, because you've said so many times. But you can never know how much we will miss you.
Carla Worsow (Elsbeth's daughter)
Thank You for:
...Buying my first pair of high heels from Nordstrom downtown at our first Daughter-Dad Birthday lunch. (Now we all know where my lifelong addiction to shoes got started.)
...For your patience when my Doberman seemed to have a strange obsession to wanting to bite you in the wallet every time you would come to my house.
...Proudly walking me down the wedding aisle as well as walking me through the many pathways of my life.
...allowing me to leave the newspapers after being your administrative assistant for 18 years. By supporting me (although it was hard for you) to let me try my wings at something new by applying and getting a job at Boeing. Telling me that someday I'd be running Boeing. (Guess management didn't get that memo...)
...teaching me to never fear being told "No...As I was already at "No" when I walked through any door". It was up to me to get the "yes". and to "never, ever give up". That phrase gave me the strength and courage to constantly look for new challenges and opportunities throughout my life.
...Thank you for being my lifelong champion. I love you.
Linda McDaniel (Elsbeth's daughter)
It was during the last ten years of Jerry's life that I felt closest to him. And although it may not have been under the best of circumstances, due to his declining health, I saw it as a way to help when he needed it. I was fortunate in that it gave me the opportunity to give back and in a way to say "thank you" for all that he had done for me in the last 46 years. Because that's what you do when you love someone--you find ways to do for them what they have done for you.
I thus felt honored in the later years of Jerry's life to be able to express my love by giving back. But in reality this was really a gift for me, affirming one of his favorite sayings: "Is there anything better than being needed?" He was right. And, luckily for me, I got to experience first-hand how right he was. The greatest gift you can give someone is yourself; and Jerry gave me the chance to do just that.
Charles Ganong (Linda's life partner)
Jerry had a very distinctive style of answering the phone, his voice booming out of the receiver and rattling the windows: "Jer-ry ROBinson!" Every time I heard that voice in recent years and months, I took a moment to let it echo in my ears, to tuck it away in my memory, to savor and cherish it. I never wanted to forget the sound of it--the sound of him.
Because I knew that someday his voice--so full of vim and verve and vigor--would no longer be on the end of the line; that the only place I would hear it would be in the gently dying waves, the soft wind whispering in my ears and the seashell chambers of my heart.
Mike McDaniel (Elbeth's son) chose to decline any submission for this article at this time.