Note from Joe
It would be difficult to add much to what Al Benn said about Tim Robinson, although it’s probably only about half of it. I think most of us expected Tim to win the Tontine bottle. He looked healthier in Selma than he did in Birmingham as a kid.
Tim picked up the T. Sumner in the late 60s after moving to WA where he earned the first of his graduate degrees — while working full time, initially, I think for the Agriculture Department, then at something called the DC Examiner. Tim wasn’t being effete with the T. Sumner, just making sure he could be distinguished from other people with a fairly common name — although I think he had some fun with it as well.
I can’t quite explain how it is that all of us can remember drinking with him when there weren’t that many hours in a day. In Birmingham, Tim joined the United Submarine Veterans of WWII, which was the way former submariner Julian Lapidus made it legal for a few to drink after hours in the Twin Dolphins Club.
After maybe three beers, Schlitz in those days, Tim would sit down at the piano (those were the days when many bars had one)and nimbly work through one of I think three songs, notably Gershwyn’s Summertime. He may have picked that up from another sometime member of the group, Harold Johnson, who played piano in bars for a living. The next day, he would get up, go to class and then go to work.
During Tim’s stint at the WA Post, Jim Morrison died and there wasn’t a writer to do that. Tim volunteered, cranked out a literate epic, then returned to his other work. Turned out he had something approaching inside knowledge of Morrison, The Doors and their music. He was always known for prodigious work habits.
Yale Law School came on a Ford Foundation fellowship and then went on to become editor of the National Law Journal. After 20 years or so, it’s easy to forget what a hot publication that was.
As Al said, Tim never forgot where he was from and the tough life of his parents, who were both school teachers in a county that paid rock bottom state level wages. In Alabama which was as usual contending with Mississippi to be 50th in education. I don’t remember the figure Tim named, but 40 years ago, both of his parents together earned well under $10,000 combined.
Walker County was also dirt poor coal-mining country with a passel of Kluckers. I remember Tim talking about his father working as a coal miner and his dad’s experience’s with the Klan as a preacher. In my e-mail I find a note from Tim re his admiration of Agee’s “Let Us No Praise Famous Men” and “Death in the Family.”
Tim’s life and career look like a succession of triumphs, but he showed a huge amount of character in coping with and moving past personal tragedy.