And Here’s to You, Dr. Robinson
Bridget Burke walked out of the Schoo-Bemis Science Center on the first day of the fall 2016 semester after sitting through her environmental science class. As she exited the building and trekked over to Locklin Hall, she began to feel excited and “almost giddy” for her next class: Social Research and Program Evaluation taught by Gordon Robinson, G’03.
“I knew he’d have something smart to say and a bright smile to throw at me,” Burke said.
She was exactly right. As soon as she walked in the classroom, Robinson burst out in laughter. With a big smile, he said, “Ms. Burke, I thought I had gotten rid of you by now!” Burke jokingly informed him that he would be stuck with her for one more year.
“He always knew how to put a smile on my face,” she said.
Anyone who knew Gordon Robinson would agree with those 11 words. His lively, cheery, and electric personality has been a fixture at Springfield College for many years. He had the ability to turn a gloomy day into a good one, a good one into a great one.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, Robinson was found lifeless in his home, having apparently died suddenly over the weekend. Robinson taught his classes on Friday, Nov. 11, and was seen walking in Northampton—a very common sight for people who knew him well—on Saturday. He did not show up for class on Monday.
Robinson was a sociology professor in the Department of Social Sciences with the School of Arts, Sciences, and Professional Studies. He earned a PhD in sociology from Michigan State University.
Robinson came to Springfield College as an assistant professor of sociology/criminal justice in September 1997 and played a big role in making the criminal justice major what it is today.
Robinson was a man who will be remembered as someone who was extremely intelligent and had a real sense of humor. However, what so many thought made him a role model was how he genuinely cared for others, especially the success of students.
“The success of alums and students are the evidence of Gordon’s empathy and genuine efforts to help students develop professionally,” Chair of the Department of Social Sciences Tom Carty said. “Gordon believed in young people. He told students to reach high in their goals, and he supported them as much as he could. Students who might otherwise never have considered graduate school are now lawyers and professionals in careers they never previously considered.”
Burke added, “To me, he was much more than a professor. He was a friend, my smartest friend by far, and especially he was someone to look up to and admire.”
Bradley Deckel, a student, added, “He was one of the best teachers I ever had because of the connections he made with his students and the belief he had in each one.”
Through his kindness, Robinson pushed his students to be the best they could possibly be, and in Vincent Nardini’s case, Robinson saved a student who was ready to give up hope.
“To him I was more than just a football player, [I was] a man pursuing his dreams, and, honestly, he was one of the only teachers I ever had who believed in me,” Nardini said. “Dr. R helped find my potential, and most importantly, kept me in school when I wanted to leave and drop out. He never gave up on me. I am thankful for all the lessons he taught me and all the jokes he told me. I thank him for helping me reach my potential. I … will always cherish the time we spent these past four years.”
Robinson not only pushed his students for their individual success, but he had a desire to teach them about issues in our country and our world.
Deckel said, “In one of the first classes this semester, he asked the class ‘why is there poverty?’ A general answer was, ‘that’s the way it is.’ That answer was never acceptable to him. He wanted his students to be able to think about why things are the way they are. He wanted us to understand that nothing in society just happens, that there are events and actions that cause things to be that way. He helped me grow as a student by making me try to find the reasons for social conditions, and not just accept that that’s the way things are.”
It was very rare to be in the presence of Robinson without hearing his laugh. It was a laugh that was distinctly identifiable as Robinson’s.
“Gordon believed in young people. He told students to reach high in their goals, and he supported them as much as he could. Students who might otherwise never have considered graduate school are now lawyers and professionals in careers they never previously considered.”
Student Taylor Barnard said, “What I will remember most is his contagious laugh.”
“He had a very contagious laugh and it was great,” Deckel added. “There would be times that he would be lecturing for 30 minutes and then he would start cracking up over something he said or someone was doing. Most of the time I would have no idea why he was laughing, but I couldn’t help but laugh along.”
Professor of Criminal Justice Gary Berte will remember the little things about Robinson.
“Gordon and I bantered daily. It was always good-natured. It often related to which of us was better informed about critical issues in criminal justice. I would say to him, ‘Hey Gordon, I’m right!’ He’d respond by saying, ‘Wait until tomorrow!’ I’d ask, ‘Why?’ He’d respond, ‘I’ll be right because it’ll be my turn!’ We’d then laugh and go about our day. This is a great example of his eagerness to engage with colleagues in both a playful and meaningful manner. He was very good at that!”
Barnard said that she will never forget the skills and ideas that Robinson taught her. She was moved by his intelligence, and she was honored to know him.
“Dr. Robinson was a special kind of person,” Barnard said. “He was someone who did not care what people thought of him and [who] was passionate about his beliefs. I have never had a professor like him. I will miss him in class and having him as a mentor. He was a one-of-a-kind person and he will be missed by so many people.”
Deckel, Barnard, and Wayne Belcher have launched a criminal justice club.
“The first thing we are going to do is start a fundraiser for Dr. Robinson,” Barnard said. “We want to purchase a plaque to honor him and put it in the Social Science Department.
Robinson was not only passionate about his students, however. He had a deep love for fashion and fancy clothing. He loved to frequent J. Rich, a men’s clothing store in Northampton. He even did some modeling for them.
J. Rich was just one of the stores Robinson patronized with regularity. He was a popular man throughout the town of Northampton, especially in the shops.
“He was like the mayor of Northampton,” former Springfield College Dean of Students Terry Vecchio said. “He was incredibly well-known, and is known by literally all the store owners in Northampton.”
He’s so well known that the Northampton Chamber of Commerce is going to make all of the store owners aware of his passing.
“It’s unusual to have that kind of impact,” Vecchio said. “He was just kind-hearted. If Gordon knew it was your birthday, he would buy you a birthday gift. He would bring cookies to the registrar’s office during finals because he knew they would be busy dealing with grades. He was just generous and open-hearted.”