I have some very sad news. Tom Robinson, father of Jill Robinson, died this week at age 85. As his wife Marla said to Marney Keenan, “Now there are two fathers gone without closure.”
I put off writing this today because it bummed me out so much. I found Tom Robinson’s interview in Children of the Snow to be so honest and compelling. As he held a photograph of Jill he said:
“It’s one of those things that never goes away. This was a bad period.” And, “I’m stuck thinking about it every morning and every evening.” For almost 46 years.
I sat down to type and I swear to god, there is a full, vibrant double rainbow out my back deck. Tom and Jill. As an English professor, perhaps Tom Robinson would forgive my writer’s block, and I appreciate the incentive in the sky to write something. (I am scheduling this to post Saturday morning, rather than at the time of writing.)
Over the years I have been contacted by two of Professor Robinson’s students who wrote me to say how profoundly they were affected by him–that they respected him greatly. I remember one man wrote to say that decades ago, on the first day of class, Professor Robinson introduced himself, explained he was the father of Jill Robinson, got that on the table and then said “now let’s learn.” The many people he touched also cared deeply about his family’s incomprehensible loss.
This is the part that hung me up today–Marney told me “I was really struck by how Jill’s birth, four decades on, was so vivid in [Tom’s] memory. He said to me and Cory: ‘I know all parents remember the first time, but it shook me up. … I first saw her looking through the window and the nurse was holding her. And it was an electric moment.'”
Tom told them that he was devastated by Jill’s death. “I can’t say I wanted to die because I had two other kids. But it took the spark out of my life.”
Please, this weekend do something kind for someone in your life. As you do so, think of Tom, Jill, Tom’s wife Marla, and Jill’s mom Karol and Jill’s two sisters Alene and Heather.
I also want to point out how prescient Tom Robinson and Karol Robinson were in the months after Jill’s murder. In a March 27, 1977 Detroit News article, Tom asked “where the hell is the imaginative leadership [from the task force]?” Karol said “I get the feeling there is a runaround with this task force.” I’m sure the Oakland County prosecutor and the state police knew the sheer magnitude of the Robinsons’ loss would fold in on them soon enough and that this story would be starved of oxygen. And it was.
Go figure, 21 months later there it was: The task force had gotten their grant money but not their suspect(s) and in addition “”[t]he investigators ran through more than $2 million dollars and have nothing to show for it except the files, a manual on how to organize such an investigation–and memories of frustration.” The Port Huron Times Herald, Sunday, December 17, 1978, p. 8A.
How’s that for imaginative leadership?