Edward Leo Robinson, 1947–2018

1947–1965

Ed's family appears to have moved from Massachusetts to California for the school year 1957–58. In a later letter, he mentions having known Jim McGregor since 5th grade (Jim, who died mysteriously in London in the early 1970s, had re-established connection when both showed up at UC Santa Cruz in fall 1965). The family lived in the San Francisco Bay Area (I've heard Palo Alto and Mountain View as possible locations) until at least half the family moved into the San Jose/Campbell area in time for the 1959–60 school year.

Ed's dad was an electrical engineer, which perfectly fits the migration pattern of the late 1950s. The Bay Area wasn't known as “Silicon Valley” yet, but the technological beginnings were there. At least two fathers of my Mountain View 7th grade classmates were electrical engineers, and the families lived in the nearby Eichler homes that so characterized modern living (for the well-employed) in Northern California in the late 1950s and much of the 1960s. As the 1960s progressed, Ed Sr had increasing trouble getting and keeping a job, as he had not been specifically educated for his trade, and contemporary colleges were producing electrical engineers actually trained as such.

Ed and I met in 8th grade. We were on Mike Traina’s PE softball team, and joined in commiseration as Traina “beseeched” us to hit better. I won’t use his actual language. Needless to say, we both joined the Cadet Corps—the PE-alternative—upon entering high school.

We probably started spending time together right away, but there was little reason to actually remember much. It was probably our freshman year that we went up to stay overnight with my aunt Ruth in San Francisco. She fostered our interest in photography, and took us to at least one gallery. At school, we easily took over the Campbell High School photography commission, as no one else was interested, and we were enthralled with the WWII-era equipment we found in the darkroom. The standard camera we were to use was the 4x5 Speed Graphic, which you’ve seen reporters use in 1930s movies. I think Darryl Linthicum was the advisor all three of our years there. Forever after that experience we would repeat Linthicum’s mantra: “You guys don’t appreciate the chemistry involved!” He was the chemistry teacher. I have some pictures I took for the yearbook from that year, so we were definitely involved right from the get-go.

We had the same English class, and were equally enthralled with the substitute teacher who took over second semester and told us many stories of his European adventures. Like the rest of the class, probably, we vowed to go to Europe the following summer. I finally made it in 1996. Ed was in Finland for an academic conference sometime around those days, too. Not exactly what our teacher had in mind, but he was more capable than his timorous students.

Ross Carroll joined our little group in our sophomore year, perhaps because we all lived in the same general area and took the same bus to school. We’ve been friends ever since.

One year—probably our junior year, Ed’s father asked my family to house his son for what I recall as several months. It was going to take Ed Sr a while to relocate into our school district from wherever he was then living. So, the Broschats on Grimsby Drive got a lodger.

    

[edit Oct 2018] I’ve researched and reflected a lot on Ed’s life, over the past couple months since his death. In additon to being reminded of how similar our lives were—more in values than details, I’ve wondered: Where was the infamous teenage rebellion we hear so much about and that some of us have lived through? In that absence, Ed’s life was similar to mine. When I try to think about people I’ve known who have demonstrated that rebellion, I can recall at least one of his or her parents strongly involved in the rebel’s life. That was not true for either of us. Although Marie, Ed’s mother, was a single mom with three boys, by the time we became friends, Ed’s father was always available. Marie was dating in those first two years of our high school (I remember a Kodak salesman, which would have made an impression on us as fledgling photographers), and she was certainly the strongest personality among the four parents we claimed. Ed told lots of stories about his home life, and he did so with a wry sense of humor. Still, Marie made no more demands on her oldest son than did any of the other three parents on their son. Our performance in school indicated we were on the road to being “educated,” something that certainly could not have been said of my parents. I suspect that Ed’s father—the closest to a professional of our parents—might have learned his electrical engineering skills while in the armed services, perhaps during WWII. His lack of education in that field was becoming a problem for him during the mid-1960s, as employers began to have options among those with EE degrees. Still, I don’t recall any pressure on Ed to take a particular path in life. In short, there was nothing to rebel against. Ed (and I) looked beyond our parents for role models.

1965–1977

When Marie began a relationship with Herb Hershman (they would divorce in 1968), she convinced Herb to buy Ed an MGA A sports car. His British racing green MGA was a legend from day 1. This relationship was also reponsible for Ed’s first year in college. Ed got to go to UC Santa Cruz—and in its first year of existence. 1965 Letter I would visit on occasion, getting a kick out of the kids living in trailers. In that first year, the UCSC policy was to test the freshmen at the end of the school year. Fully one-third of the class failed, Ed among them. Certainly no dummy, let’s just say that life was more interesting in those days for him than classes.

I don’t recall how Ed told me that summer of 1966 that he wouldn’t be going back in the fall. I don’t really remember his failure as being a big deal, but Ted Silveira makes the excellent point that much of Ed’s subsequent life can be seen as an attempt to redeem himself. To know yourself of above average intelligence and to fail at something academic is a devastating blow to one’s ego, but of course there’s no need to go advertising the effect of this on you.

He took up various jobs in the Santa Cruz area, including driving the shuttle bus at UCSC. Ed lived first in a little house on 14th avenue that some of us remember. I transferred to UCSC for my junior year, graduating in 1969. We must have seen each other on occasion, both when I was living at home in Scotts Valley and also when I spent my senior year on campus at UCSC.

I went into the service after college (1969), a fortunate occurence in the sense that it caused some letters to be written that would not have been otherwise.

Letter from 1969
Letter from August 1971
Letter from December 1971
Letter from March 1972
Letter from April 1972

My impression is that he spent the 70s in an alternative life style. Ross remembers him working at a health food store, which I find amusing, knowing him best during the last couple decades when I doubt that he would have knowingly entered a health food store. But his letters show that he also had an eye on returning to school. Ted remembers Cabrillo College as being the context for further academic efforts. He seems to have been studying anthropology, perhaps with a goal of becoming a social worker.

Letter from June 1972
Letter from 1973

Ed had applied for status as a conscientious objector (CO), and the anxiety of waiting for resolution of this status had clearly upset him over a period of several months. Successful resolution (almost certainly granted to “older” guys; the draft was intended for teenagers) finally allowed him to re-evaluate his life with a clear path ahead.






1979–2018

Letter from early 1978
Letter from June 1978
Note from 1984
Letter from Feb 1988

He went back to school in the late 1970s, graduating from UC Davis in 1979 in zoology. He then went to the University of Colorado for what was probably intended as a PhD program but left after a few years with a Masters degree. He worked as a contractor for NASA at Moffett Field in Santa Clara County, and then went on to a PhD program. He had his PhD in physiology by 1997, studying under Charles (Chuck) Fuller. He ended up staying on at UC Davis in a research position. He told me he had a brief experience as a teacher (while in Colorado) and it wasn’t brief enough. He was involved in grant studies for NASA, and seemed most proud of the program(s) he wrote to do calculations in the many experiments involved. It appears that his contribution to the NASA-related research made unique use of the talents he had, quite unintentionally, been nurturing most of his life.

Ed died a bachelor. Ed was part of a small group that formed after high school, an intense experience that cemented at least some degree of friendship among the group until the end of their lives (his ending before the others). In that sense, Ed leaves Ross Carroll, myself, Rhonda Ruick O’Brien, and Nancy Boone Vermette, with several associates such as my brother Lyle and Rhonda’s sister Marilyn. My former wife Shira remembers him fondly as a good friend during the time I was in the Air Force before she joined me on Okinawa.

We probably saw more of each other—all members of this little group—in our adulthood. For one thing, there was email, and for another one or the other of us might travel into the sphere of another, and any news would make its way within the group. Ed visited me in DC while on an academic mission, and I saw him a few times on my trips back to California. And when I retired back to the West Coast, I saw him once or twice a year as I drove into California for one reason or another.

And Ed was the “science guy” for me. He knew something about many aspects of science, and was tireless in researching answers to some questions. While reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, I thought to ask him where gold comes from. A day later, I got a set of links to articles on the subject (by the way, gold and lots of other things are made in supernovas out there in space). Which reminds me that for years I relied upon his instructions for caring for vinyl records. He had sent us an annotated booklet on the subject as well as recommendations for the necessary equipment. And before he died, he had modified a program I wrote to detail my movie collection (on DVD), to suit his own interests. As when he designed and built audio speakers, he worked tirelessly until he was satisfied with the result. For that reason alone, his research group at Davis will miss him greatly.

I’ve thought a lot about Ed since learning of his death. He was a man without ambition, at least as that is known by many. He was completely satisfied with the minimalist lifestyle he lived throughout adulthood. All he needed was enough money to supply his desires of the moment. Despite the PhD, he had no desire (expressed to me) to be a professor, mostly because of the teaching obligation. He was a researcher, and like many of us worked best at his own pace. I have known millionaires and even worked for (and shook hands with!) one of the ten richest men in the world (at the time), but I can’t imagine any of them having been more satisfied than was Ed with his life. I don't use the word ‘happy’ because that would imply something Ed was not. ‘Satisfied’ will do.

At our age, we’re already experienced at losing friends and relatives. But as has often been noted, remember the good stuff. Remember the good times. A friend lives in your memory until you don’t have one anymore.

Michael Broschat, August 2018

A small group formed more or less after high school but based upon at least some friendships during pre-graduation. Core members were Nancy Boone, Rhonda Ruick, Ed Robinson, Ross Carroll, and Michael Broschat. Russ Denea was also among founding members but as the group would mature after he left town for college, his place was occupied by various other friends and relatives. Lyle Broschat and Marilyn Ruick certainly were often involved.

The next academic year saw Ed and Nancy go to UC Santa Cruz, Michael to San Jose State, Ross to the Army, Rhonda to community college, and subsequent years saw similar movement. Nancy married David Molinari in 1965 and they lived in Santa Cruz where Nancy still attended UC. Michael transferred to UC Santa Cruz for his junior year, and Ross came back from the Army enrolling at a community college near his parents. Ed left school after the first year and settled at various places in the Santa Cruz area, working at various jobs.

Nancy and Michael graduated in 1969, and of course each of us gained a friend or two from whatever lives we were living at the time. Michael met Shira at UCSC in late 1968 and became engaged the following summer. They were married in June 1970. David died in 1970 not long after Michael’s wedding. Changes by the bushel.

The group members living in the Santa Cruz area embraced Shira, and her letters to Michael after his Air Force enlistment often confirm the moral and spiritual support the friends group provided her, and she in her turn for them.

Shira Lynn Broschat, August 2018

Edward. It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen him. So how do I remember him? One hand in a pocket, one hand holding a mug. Tousled hair. Talking without opening his mouth and barely moving his lips. Quiet humor, smiling eyes. Intelligent, kind eyes. Unlike so many, he was nonjudgmental, accepting you as you were. Appreciative of good things. Gentle and unruffled. One of the good people.

Nancy Boone Molinari Vermette, August 2018

Ed was my friend. Simply, that. We met in eighth grade, and could get together after some years apart, and pick up where we had left off, catching up, trading thoughts and stories, laughter and sadness, as we had from early on. I would show up on his doorstep at any hour of the day or night for listening, music and comfort during very trying times in my life. Ed was really the one person I ever shared my grief with in the seventies. I realize now, how much I must have burdened him with a rather selfish preoccupation with my loss, but he was such an empathetic soul. At that time, his own troubles were always put on a back burner, whilst he offered what he could to comfort me.
We shared a love of classical music: some of my best vinyl came from his alerts whilst he worked at Santa Cruz Books and Music. I think it was he, who helped put together my first stereo system (which I still have!) We shared a love of animals, a number of books, and hiking about California on occasion.
Another image comes to mind: Rhonda and I talked him into a tour of the JellyBelly factory. He was such a good sport with us! Whenever I would be in the Davis area, the three of us usually managed an afternoon or evening together. You were there for one of those, Michael!
We backpacked together a number of times, usually with some others, and it was Ed who introduced me to Kendal Mint Cakes. Well, three weeks ago I happened to be in the Lake District in the UK and Lo! and behold! a Kendal Mint Cake from the very place they are made - I immediately thought of Ed and bought one. It was a newer wrapper and they make them in chocolate and who knows what else, but I had to have the original for him! Ten days later, I heard he has gone from my life. R.I.P. my friend. You are lovingly interwoven in my fabric of time.

Ted Silveira, October 2018

I met Ed in 1965 when we both arrived at UC Santa Cruz and were sardined into neighboring trailers. His roommates were nuttier than mine, so I spent a fair amount of time hanging out there and talking about photography and jazz. We also found out we were both born in October 1947, only two days apart. At the time, he was quiet and a bit shy, thoughtful, and curious, with a sly sense of humor—just as he was for the rest of his life.
The university had a core course, World Civilization, for all first year students and had decided (for some reason) not to have finals at the end of each quarter but to have one monster final at the end of the year for all three quarters of credit. As I remember, the exam was an all-day affair consisting of three 1-hour essays and one 3-hour essay. It was a disaster for quite a few students, including Ed—basically, if you failed the exam, you either flunked out or ended up on probation. The results were so bad that the university hastily arranged a retake of the exam over the following summer. But by then, Ed was back home, didn’t have anyone to study with, was working a construction job (I think), and had discovered psychedelics. In any case, he again failed to pass. I think he was also disenchanted with school and not sure where he fit in, what he wanted to do, or what difference it might make.
We kept in touch sporadically over the next year while I was still living on campus (I didn’t have a car). Then during the summer break in 1967, I was in Sacramento, working as a temp for the post office, and started driving down to Santa Cruz on weekends to visit friends, picking up Ed along the way. Quite often, we ended up staying in Felton with Lorraine Sintetos, another UCSC student, who turned out to have a birthday in the same week as Ed’s and mine. (Starting in the 70s, this coincidence generated yearly joint birthday celebrations comprising several days and lots of beer. As we got older, fewer days and less beer.)
After that summer, Ed left the peninsula and came back to Santa Cruz, where he crashed on the couch of the house at the corner of California and Bay, where I was living with Flip Lawyer and Dennis Tamura. In the early 70s, when I was equally adrift, I periodically crashed on the couch at his place on 14th Avenue and again on Branciforte Drive, where he shared a house with Flip and Dennis. It balanced out, more or less. We both owned VW buses by then, so we necessarily spent time working together to keep them running. When the transaxle on mine finally died, he helped me transplant the engine into the shell of a beat-up VW bug.
Through the 14th Ave and Branciforte Drive years, Ed’s brain was roaming widely as he tried out new things and searched for a new path. He briefly worked at a psychic bookstore and a natural food store, got deeply involved in classical music, took a woodworking class in instrument making, took up vegetable gardening (under the influence of Dennis, a graduate of the UCSC garden project), worked up programs for his programmable calculator to work out horoscopes, took a shot at brewing beer, and more that I can’t remember. His persistence in pursuing things that interested him, however complex, was remarkable. At the time, I would never have imagined him acting as liaison between scientists and NASA for space shuttle experiments or devoting his life to physiology research, but it didn’t surprise me much when he did.
Starting in the late 1970s, Lorraine and I lived together in a house on Mattison Lane in Santa Cruz with a changing cast of roommates, some just passing through, some staying for years. Ed lived with us there briefly on two separate occasions.
The first period came between graduating from UC Davis and leaving for grad school in Colorado. The entire household joined in to prepare Ed for job hunting, including jacket and tie, but despite our joint efforts (or because of them), he ended up working at Camp Tawonga.
The second period came when he returned from Colorado with an MA in 1983. Once again, the household joined in to assist with job hunting suits and haircuts. (I believe we have more photos of Ed wearing a tie than anyone else in the entire world.) In November of 1983, he landed a job with a NASA contractor, acting as a liaison between scientists and NASA, based at Moffett Field in Mountain View. For some time, he commuted from Mattison Lane to Moffett Field by driving south to Watsonville Airport and then hitching a ride in a light plane with a boss or coworker who was a pilot. By late 1984, that ride disappeared (when the pilot moved, I think), and rather than face the commute over Highway 17 during rush hours, Ed moved back over the hill.
While he was at Mattison in 1984, though, he bought one of the first ever Macs, the original 128K model with accompanying ImageWriter dot matrix printer and padded carrying case.
After NASA, Ed moved again to Davis to return to school for his PhD and stayed there to continue research, so we saw each other less and less, as everyone’s lives got busier. Birthday celebrations with cakes turned into phone calls. The last time Lorraine and I saw Ed in person was in 2006, at a memorial for a mutual friend (another from the UCSC days).
He was a good friend who made his own way and was part of our lives for a long time. Lorraine and I both miss him.

Mary Schiedt, September 2018

I met Ed when I went out to the farm to have a look when it was for sale, and a farm had been my dream since about age five. As I pulled up out front Ed was walking out to his old Honda with a mug of coffee in his hand. I asked if he lived there, and if he was interested in staying after it sold. He asked if I was considering buying. The answer being yes, he gave me a tour around. He was a graduate student under Chuck Fuller.
After I sealed the deal I stayed with my mom to let the family in the front house have six months to find a place to move to. They were so bad Ed almost had to move out. Once I moved out to the farm we got to know each other and the rest is history…that was over thirty years ago.

Lyle Broschat, October 2018

I should comment here, though my memory is full of huge gaps…
Ed has taken the lead on the subject of mortality, which is kind of an abrupt reversal of consciousness from thinking about the future to thinking about the past. The future is now meaningless, but the past is pretty damned interesting.
I love Ted’s comments and insights especially, though I only vaguely remember Ted, from nearly fifty years ago. A distant flawed memory of talking to a guy on a toilet in a trailer that was supposed to be a university dorm. I think there was a flamboyant mustache as well…
I did not know Ed nearly as well as the rest of you, and I last saw him sometime in the seventies. I had completely forgotten that he once lived in our house in the mid-sixties, though I probably loved having him there. In high school we were all in the cadet corps, trying desperately to evade our memories of junior high school physical education, which the CCC exempted us from in high school. I think that Ed made sergeant, and Michael made lieutenant, while I, the fascist in waiting, was promoted to captain. Whatever, we survived high school without having to submit to more physical education teachers.
Despite our youth, we understood what idiots the adults had become. Ed figured this out, I think. He was always such an interesting and thoughtful guy. Which is why I found him again, from time to time. I wonder how many of us, including Ted, spent time on 14th Ave, supplementing Ed’s $80 rent, sharing a bunk bed, talking philosophy.
I remember his struggle with the CO process especially, sympathized with him, and hoped for resolution. I, unexpectedly, scored on the infamous draft lottery, freed forever from having to become a Canadian citizen. I shot off to a volunteer project in black Kansas City, to thank the gods of fate.
Sometime thereafter, I was in contact with Ed and Ross and Nancy, and all of these memories now mix in confusion. But I occasionally escaped my city job with San Jose and popped in on Ed in his reclusive cabin off Highway 17. I was always unannounced, since Ed had no phone. But I learned to bring a sixpack with me, and Ed did exactly what I wanted him to do, which was to enlighten me, or at least give me some kind of intellectual stimulation. He was very good at this. This is what I came for.
Ed was only a year older than me, but I listened to him intently. We talked logical positivism, existentialism, religion, god knows what. He was never boring. Always a good guy, I would be surprised that anyone was ever offended by him…