Journalist remembered, missed

Montgomery Advertiser / State & Govt. – October 13, 2003
Montgomery, Alabama

DORA, ALA. –When Tim Robinson left this little Walker County town three decades ago to become a national figure in the news business, he made sure he carried enough of Dora with him to stay firmly grounded.

He may have rubbed elbows with the rich and famous from New York to Los Angeles and appeared on network television programs, but, in his mind, he’d always be a boy from a small Alabama town who couldn’t wait to get back home to visit the folks.

His friends got together to brag about him Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t the kind of occasion we wanted. It was his funeral.

Tim Robinson and his wife, Jan, (foreground) attended the 2002 United Press International Conference on media coverage of the civil rights era.

— Alvin Benn, Special to the Advertiser

Tim died last week from complications following cancer surgery. He was 58 and was just getting used to his newest job in Virginia when his illness was detected.

Some people in search of fame and fortune ditch their accents, especially in entertainment and corporate climates. Not Tim. It didn’t really matter, anyway, because brilliance doesn’t carry a specific speech pattern.

By the time Tim was 5, he was well on his way to prodigy status as he mastered the violin and piano. Jerry Robinson said his baby brother’s IQ tested out at 170 long before he graduated from Dora High School at the age of 15.

“Mother had bought us a little child-type blackboard and Tim would love to write on it,” Nelson Robinson, another brother, told mourners at a funeral home in nearby Sumiton. “I came in from school one day and, in big letters, I saw: ‘Beat Parrish.’ I asked Tim who did that and he said ‘I did it.’ He was three at the time.”

Dora High School had just held a homecoming parade and little Tim watched as cars and trucks went by his house with “Beat Parrish” on both sides. Even then, he had a remarkable memory.

Three years after his high school graduation, Tim had picked up a junior college degree, enrolled at what now is Samford University, was assistant state editor at the Birmingham Post-Herald and worked for us at United Press International during weekends to make a few extra bucks.

Tim was a superb editor, but he was a newshound at heart and it showed the night he picked up a camera and rushed to a Birmingham hospital where a civil rights activist had been brought following his beating in Selma in1965. The only photo of the Rev. James Reeb being wheeled into the hospital was taken by Tim. UPI sent it to newspapers around the world.

At the Washington Post, Tim was an editor who played a key role in coverage of the Watergate burglary and subsequent court entanglements that toppled a president. After that, he became a lawyer and established a national reputation in the legal field.

His expertise in so many vital areas of American society made him a sought-after dinner speaker and fixture on television programs, including “Larry King Live” and the “Today” show. If they needed an expert, they’d call Tim.

When the Internet revolution dawned in the early 1980s, Tim found himself deeply involved in that as well. He helped AltaVista,, Excite and other services. He and his wife, Jan, had just moved from San Francisco to northern Virginia where he was hired as an AOL executive when he developed cancer.

Tim was a connoisseur of fine food and wine, but he never passed up an opportunity to make his big city friends plates of Hopping Johns — a black-eyed pea dish that he first watched bubbling on his mother’s stove back home in Alabama.

As he regained consciousness at the hospital, where he would take his last breath, Tim looked up at his wife and asked her for the date. When she told him it was Oct. 7, he reminded her that it was the 18th anniversary of their first date.

“He became a legend that day to the ICU team for being such a romantic throughout a time that was a real trial for him,” Jan said at the funeral.
“We were married in a rose garden in Brooklyn. Tim promised and gave me a rose garden for our life.”

Behind her was a large arrangement of roses. It rested on top of Tim’s casket and was moistened by the tears of those who loved him.

If you’d like to help a future journalist, you can send a donation to the Robinson Scholarship Fund, First National Bank, P.O. Box 31, Jasper, AL 35502.