Joe Chapman wrote that Tim was “a bit of a carouser.”
Oh Joe, you do Tim a disservice. He was a ball of fun! Party boy extroadinaire. Right Al?
Surely Ron Tate could attest to that. Tim and Howell Raines were contemporaries at the BX Post-Herald in 1964-65; BX-born and bred Howell was a recent graduate of Birmingham-Southern College, a Methodist school. Tim was a full time student at Howard College, a Baptist institution. Did Tim and Howell’s somewhat divergent personalities tell us something about the difference between the Baptists and the Methodists?
You know (skuse, uk) that’s an ongoing study in the South, or at least it used to be. While Tim was a daytime student at Howard and a nighttime full-time journalist for the P-H, his school acquired Cumberland Law School and moved it from Tennessee. That gave Howard university status, Tim noted.
BXers will recall that BX’s Howard’s prexy at the time, Leslie Wright, was an ardent champion of Gov. George Wallace. Tim noted that, too. So Howard was renamed Samford University after its most generous benefactor, Frank Samford, founder of Liberty National Life Insurance Corp., which was a huge success (It’s name now is Torchmark Corp.).
As I recall, Tim graduated at a tender age, 18, or thereabouts. His youth came up at dinner Virgie and I had him over the house for while he was visiting Atlanta to make a speech in the mid 1980s. He was editor of the National Law Journal by then.
Once, he told us, a staffer of his suggested that Tim could graduate from college at such a young age because Howard must’ve been “one of those crappy southern schools.”
“No,” Tim said he responded, “I’m smart.”
Indeed, he was one of the smartest persons I’ve ever known. The expansiveness of his mind could be breathtaking. For example, he liked all kinds of music, including the subversive variety. On more than one occasion he, I and others would gather in my apartment (near the Charlie Boswell golf course) to guzzle some beer and listen to Pete Seeger do his kommonist songs, including We Shall Overcome, as well as hear early Bob Dylan (Tim especially liked The Ballad of Hattie Carroll). We were joined at least once by two of Tim’s hometown friends, Jimmy Blackwell and a fellow named Monk whose full name I cannot remember. They were Tim’s age, and like Tim they were fine young men.
Besides being a fan of subversive music, Tim was also an aficionado of classical European music. So when the BX Symphony season was underway Duard LeGrande (was he news editor?) assigned him to review opening nights.
I usually accompanied him, free-loading on the comp ticket Tim was entitled to. We were both impressed by an operatic rendition of “Knoxville 1915,” which was adapted from the opening chapter of James Agee’s masterpiece novel, “A Death in the Family.” Tim thought Agee was a tragic genius, too.
Tim and I recently exchanged e-mails on how we both still remember the Knoxville 1915 performance. And, of course, he was into Rock, becoming an aficionado of the Doors. When its lead singer Jim Morrison died, Tim wrote the obit for his then-employer, the WA Post.
In the process, Tim had the task that all of us in our business hate — getting comment from Morrison’s father, a retired U.S. Navy admiral. Tim told me about that while I visited with him in WA. What was doubly awful was that it was Tim who broke the news to the father. (Tim and I had gotten together while I was stationed in Richmond, just from the road from the Nation’s capital).
I guess you could say Tim was good to me before we even met. Or better, I should say, a friend of UPI. While he was assistant state editor of the BX P-H I was manning the one-man UPI Mobile bureau. The P-H’s bulldog edition circulated in south Alabama and therefore it contained just about every south Alabama story produced by UPI and AP. Consistently, more than 90 percent of that copy was UPI’s. Tim was responsible for that section.
When I arrived in Birmingham in summer of 1964, I learned from our stringer budget that we were paying Tim the grand sum of $5 per month and his boss, State Editor George Cook, the princely amount of $10 per month. But Tim was also on our regular payroll as our part-time weekend staffer. Even though he was a mere teenager, he handled filing both the newspaper wire (7562) and the broadcast wire (7551) like an old pro. And for his $5 per month stringer fee, he was always on the lookout for stories that UPI could use that the P-H would reject. Translation: racial stories.
One of his highlights was the story that he and his friend and roommate Al Benn, a full-time BX Unipresser, ran across at the Alabama State Fair: A Ku Klux Klan exhibition booth. Manning the exhibit was one Gary Thomas Rowe.
Later, Tommy Rowe would burst onto the national scene as an FBI informer who tipped the Feds to who the Kluxers were who assassinated Viola Liuzzo as she drove blacks from Montgomery to Selma at the conclusion of the historic Selma-to-Montgomery march. Rowe and three other Kluxers were in the car from which the fatal shots were fired. Rowe would maintain he pointed his pistol away from Mrs. Liuzzo. (Al, correct any confusion here on my part since you were directly involved in the KKK exhibit story).
Prior to the Selma-MG march getting underway, three of Selma’s low-lifes one night bludgeoned one of the “white niggers” who had arrived to participate in the event. In BX we got word that the victim was in an ambulance headed to BX’s Methodist Hospital (correct despite some “official” reports have him being taken to a different hospital).
Almost simultaneously we got a report that a passenger train had derailed near BX. And that’s all we knew. So not knowing the seriousness of either the Selma attack or the train wreck I decided to go to the train wreck, leaving behind my stalwart sidekick Al Benn to handle the ambulance arrival with P-H Asst. State Editor Tim Robinson ready to help out.
The train wreck turned out to be virtually nothing. The train jumped the track at a slow rate of speed and noone was even shaken up, let alone injured. By the time I got back to BX there was pandemonium. The Selma victim turned out to be a Unitarian minister from Boston by the name of James Reeb. He was unconscious and the prognosis was negative and he would die.
The always-thinking Tim had rushed to the hospital with a CAMERA and snapped Reeb being wheeled into the emergency room. That was the only still photograph of Reeb. AP was stuck with having to use a fuzzy TV frame from WAPI-TV. Reeb’s murder prompted then-President Lyndon B. Johnson to make a televised national address to Congress to urge passage of the Voting Rights Act, which changed the face of our nation.
We didn’t have TV in our office, which was just off the P-H’s newsroom. But we had a radio and we listened, Tim, Al and me and maybe Joe. Tim was reading Johnson’s text on the B-wire as Johnson was delivering his address and suddently Tim blurted out, “Ooo, hoo, hoo, wait’ll you hear this.”
Moments later LBJ would use the phrase “We shall overcome.” The segs in the P-H newsroom were not happy.
Tim was first and foremost a newshound. For example, four BX public high schools were about to be desegregated in Sept. 1965 and that put us in a bind. Eye knew we could rely on ex-Unipresser and then-BX broadcast news director Elvin Stanton to cover one school and Al to cover another. But what about the other two schools?
Well, then Southern Division News Editor in Atlanta HLS volunteered to send over race reporter Al Kuettner, an offer I leaped at.
But what about the fourth school? Should eye un-man the bureau and go myself? But Tim came to our rescue by volunteering to cut his classes that day and cover the fourth school. A godsend to UPI.
I should like to mention here that George Cook, Tim’s boss, was 100 percent cooperative when it came to springing Tim loose to cover a racial story for UPI. It would’ve been nice to have had George at the UPI/Alabama reunion in MG in April of last year. But George died some years ago. And the reunion was the last time I saw Tim; he looked completely fit. So you never know.
Did Tim ever cause me some grief? In a way, yes, but not really. In 1964 or ’65 Tim’s alma mater, Walker County High School, called him to find someone of some “prominence” to help judge the upcoming Miss Walker County High School beauty pageant. Tim asked me.
I did not consider myself prominent. But as a favor to him I agreed to do it. I figured I’d just be a passive judge. But one of the other judges, a BX disc jockey, had no clue about what was going on. The other judge was Miss Howard College who was totally deferential to those of us of the male persuasion. So after a couple of false starts I just took over the judging and in the end suggested the winner and the other two judges went right along.
Next time I saw Tim he informed me that our selection was unpopular. As I recall, we picked a 16 y.o. girl who was only a junior and we shudda picked a senior. Groan. So, whatever you were involved in with TIM, there was always substance.
Some of us have commented on Tim’s using as his professional moniker T. Sumner Robinson. I recall Tim telling me somewhere along the way that when he married Jan it was understood she would keep her own name. So, Tim said, since she wouldn’t change her name he’d change his from Timothy S. Robinson. Jan may want to correct me here. But it makes a nice southern story.
Tony Heffernan AJ BX MI MG Etc.