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Remembering Robin Humphrey
Ned Groth, April 2020

(Author’s note: This remembrance is based primarily on my personal memories and our yearbooks. Robin was my roommate freshman year; he was subsequently "held back" and reassigned to the Class of 1963, with whom he (was) graduated, and he has always been listed by the school–and I think considered himself—a member of that class. He was not on our mailing list, came to none of our reunions, and when we finally got back in contact with each other, 8 years ago, he was retired and living in Florida. The last time I saw him was in 1962. Nonetheless, I felt he deserved to be memorialized, if briefly because of his short tenure with our class and the dearth of material. My goal, as always, has been to create an honest and loving portrait of our classmate, as we knew him. I’ve striven for factual accuracy, but take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need to be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)


Since we don't have a senior yearbook portrait of Robin, this will have to do. It's from our sophomore year, when he was manager of the varsity baseball team. There are a dozen or so other pictures of Robin in my four yearbooks, and this is probably the best one. He looks very serious, not smiling, in all of them. At least this one was outside in the sunlight, not taken in a cave like most of the class group photos. Most pictures we have of him are of sports teams, plus a couple of the marching band. Robin either was not involved in many activities and clubs, or he managed to skip the pictures.


Here's Robin at the tender age of 14, in the fall of our freshman year in 1958. This is cropped from the class photo; we numbered 29 in all, a huge freshman class for those days. Robin is in the center here, and, except for Pete Loomis, in the far back, none of the other guys made it through with us. Clockwise from 10 o'clock, Mike Laskin is "lost," has been for years. To Pierre's right, John Spencer was listed as "lost" by the school for 50 years. I found him a few years ago, living in Florida, but he resisted my attempts at contact, he'd rather stay "lost." Ron Richardello (3 o'clock) left Darrow after one year and is deceased (see his Memorial). Buff Westin left after two years, was living a good life in Alaska when last in touch (decades ago) and has not come to our reunions. Terry Tyler also left Darrow before we graduated and the school has had no trace of him since, he is permanently "lost." Of our original 29, 13 graduated in 1962, so Robin and the rest of these guys were in the majority.


Robin played football, and two of the best shots of him in the yearbooks are  from the 1960 and '61 varsity squads, shown here. He previously played two years on the JV (varsity pix were always better composed), and played one year of JV baseball. One winter (just one) he was in the recreational skiing photo; as noted above, he also managed the varsity baseball team in the spring of at least one year.

He was also in the marching band. I'm not sure I ever saw them marching but there are yearbook photos. Robin seems to have played the bass drum (and P.J. played the snare drum!). (This is from 1960.)

Most of my memories of Robin arise from our year as roommates. We were in the south room on the second floor of Valentine Cottage, an all-freshman form—Robin, I and Dave Benson. I believe this was Robin's first time away at boarding school, as it was for me. Dave was an old hand—he had spent a year or two at Culver Academy in the Midwest, so he assumed the role of veteran and mentor to us rookies. Valentine was supposed to be for younger kids, and Robin (who was 9 days younger than me) and I certainly fit, as did Carl Braun, the youngest of us all. The others were Scott Leake and Terry Tyler, who roomed together, and Frank Phillips, who roomed with Carl. Seven of us, plus a senior RA to ride herd on us, Smith Robertson. All of us (and Schmiddy) lived upstairs. Downstairs there was a common room under Carl & Frank's room and a faculty apartment (occupied by Larz and Marylou Anderson) under our and Terry & Scott's rooms.

We all got along pretty well, no roommate-conflict horror stories to tell. Robin was easygoing and quiet, just one of the guys. There are three very distinct incidents I remember about that year in which he and I are featured.

The first involved a prank in which Robin was the victim. Robin (and Dave, I and pretty much everyone else) habitually engaged in an activity that virtually all 14-year-old boys engage in after the lights go out. Robin had his own particular style of engaging in this activity that made his bed rock. When Dave and I mentioned that to Carl, Carl taught us a trick he'd probably learned at summer camp. One afternoon when Robin was out, we dis-assembled his bed, then put the parts back together, with the pins that normally fit snugly in notches to lock the frame together instead positioned so that a slight amount of motion could dislodge them. We then re-made the bed so it looked normal. That night soon after lights out Robin's bed began to rock, and within moments the whole thing fell apart and crashed to the floor with a huge racket. Mr. Anderson came running upstairs and boys from other rooms came dashing into ours to find out what happened. Everyone stood there staring at poor Robin lying in his wrecked bed. We all swore with straight faces that no one had any idea why Robin's bed collapsed. Our housemaster helped us re-assemble the bed properly and urged us to go back to bed. We all (well, maybe not Robin) laughed ourselves to sleep.


The second incident was potentially more serious. On Sunday afternoons, boys were free to explore the  wooded hills around the campus. One cold day in January, Robin and I went up to Joe Face's pond (up the hill towards Pittsfield, shown at right in the summertime). The pond was frozen over, so we crossed it on the ice. Near the far shore, we were about 20 feet apart when the ice collapsed under Robin and he fell through into the frigid water. I was about to use my boy scout training on rescuing a companion who has fallen through the ice when I saw that the water was only waist deep, Robin was standing on the bottom. He walked to shore and I grabbed a tree there and helped pull him up onto the bank. He was no longer in danger of drowning, but it was about 5 degrees out and he was soaking wet. "What should we do?," he asked me. I told him, "Run back to the dorm—don't walk, run, it will generate more heat—and get in the shower the instant you get there." So Robin ran back, I jogged less urgently after him, and by the time I got back to Valentine, he was sitting in a hot bath, feeling OK. He thanked me for being there to help and we both went, "Whew."

The third set of events is described in the memorial for C. Lambert Heyniger, our inimitable headmaster. In the fall of freshman year a bunch of us discovered that we could make great slingshots with the rubber bands that held our soccer shin guards on, and having made slingshots, we proceeded to shoot out all the windows in the Medicine Shop on the side facing Valentine. I believe all seven of us freshmen took part, at least a little, in the vandalism. We got caught, and four of us (Dave, me, Scott and Robin) admitted to participating. Mr. Heyniger (after calming down with considerable effort) informed us that we had broken dozens of 150-year-old Shaker windows, and as punishment made us re-glaze all the windows in the Medicine Shop, including ones broken before our slingshot rampage. So Robin and I and the other two guys spent several days doing penalty-Hands-to-Work, with Mr. Anderson supervising. It was actually kind of fun, working as a team, learning a skill, seeing the results of our efforts. I believe the photo here of Dave Benson replacing glass in a window is from that occasion. Dave was the yearbook photographer and seldom went anywhere without his camera, and he fortunately got someone to take a picture of him as we carried out our labors. (This shot was in the 1960 yearbook.)

After Robin and I stopped being roommates, he was repeating freshman year when we were sophomores, thus not in my classes, and we played different sports, so we drifted apart. We didn't stop being friends, we'd always greet each other on the stairs or whatever, but we saw a lot less of each other. And after our graduation, I lost touch with him entirely.

I have asked people to share memories of Robin, but other than a nice story from Dave about how the Humphrey family welcomed him into their home in NJ, probably over fall Long Weekend our first year, from which Dave still salivates at the memory of the shrimp steamed in beer that Robin's mother made, no one had much to add. "Average guy, nice guy, went along to get along, as many of us did in those days," was how Dave wrapped it up, and that is a good summary.

I didn't become Class Agent right after Darrow, I took on that role in about 1968. At that point, Robin (who was always listed as '63, but like Tom Bird, we also had a claim on him) was listed as "lost." I put his name of the list of 15 or so others from our class who had disappeared. By 1990 or so I periodically ran his (and other) names through the people finders on the internet, but found mostly dead ends or very cold trails. Once or twice I got what looked like a current address for Robin Shawn Humphrey, born on October 7, 1944, definitely our guy. I wrote him a couple of letters; they never came back, so the address in each case was probably good, but he never replied.

In October 1994, I was reading the Princeton Alumni Weekly and I saw a memorial (Princeton does them like we do, but they're limited to about 200 words) for Patterson Humphrey, from the Class of 1935. The name rang a bell; he was Robin's father. The memorial his class wrote for Patterson said he had lived in Rumson, NJ (Robin's home town). His survivors included a son, Robin S., no address given; a daughter, Holden, in Aiken, SC, and others. He had lived with his daughter in Aiken for the past 19 years. That news re-ignited my desire to find Robin, and gave me several clues. I searched for Holden, online, got her address, and sent a letter, but again I got no response. It occurred to me that Robin might not really be lost, he just might not want to be found.

Every five years or so (as a major reunion came up) I would comb the people-search databases. By 2012 I had names of people in their 30s and 40s who the search engines said were relatives of Robin, possibly his kids. Two sons, Randolph and Robin S., Jr, (known as Shawn), and a daughter, named for her aunt, Holden. Eventually I got valid addresses and phone numbers and spoke with Randy, and Suzanne, his daughter-in-law (married I think to Shawn). I learned from them that Robin had divorced their mother (mother-in-law) a number of years ago. His ex-wife, Winnie, died in 2010. Robin had gotten married again, but his children had lost touch with him. Randy said "He disappeared about 5 years ago." It wasn't like there was a lot of bad feeling, they just had fallen out of touch. Suzanne said they had not heard from Robin in about 10 years, but she thought he was in Florida. Randy suggested I look on Facebook. They both said, "If you do find him, please ask him to get in touch with us."

The Facebook suggestion was a good one. In 2012, I found Robin there. He didn't use his account much; he had one photo up (the one here, in which he looks youthful, healthy, tan and happy), and only four "friends," Shawn, Holden and two others. He accepted my request and I became, his 5th Facebook friend. I learned from Facebook that he had gone to Vanderbilt (he also listed Darrow), and at least part of his career was with Reed Elsevier, the publishing house, on the financial rather than the editorial side. It said he was married ("Got Married: June 25, 2009") and lived in Viera, FL but gave few personal details. One of the people-finder web sites told us his wife's name was Marsha, but she was not on Robin's Facebook page.

Facebook also gave us a means to stay in touch, and we did, sort of. I sent Robin birthday greetings every October 7, seven of them. He never replied. In fact I went back and looked at his Facebook page now. When he died he was down to 2 friends (Shawn and me), and he had not posted anything on his wall  since his "change of status" (marriage) in 2009. I once reached out via Facebook to see if he remembered Barry Komisaruk (no response). All other items on his Facebook page are birthday greetings, from me or Shawn. Robin was one of those folks who had a Facebook page but almost never used it.

I kept inviting Robin to reunions (ours, not the sorry-ass class of 1963's) but he never made it to one. He did reply once, via Facebook Messenger, saying he was sorry he couldn't come, but June was a very busy month for him. So, I gather he was not fully retired. In 2012, Howdy Davis (my partner in searching for lost classmates) found that Robin was listed as running a condominium association in Melbourne, FL (next to Viera). In that one reply, Robin did give me his email address, and said "Let's catch up!"

That felt promising, so in April, 2012 I sent Robin a long email, basically a summary of my life story, hoping to get a similar account back from him. I referred him to our class web site, where he could find photos of dozens of us from reunions over the years, newsletters, memorials. In my email I passed on the request from Randy that Robin get back in touch with his kids. I don't think that ever happened. Robin did not respond to that email from me, or to other (class-blast) messages he subsequently received.

At some point I concluded that Robin was either completely asocial (for lack of skill or lack of interest) or had, for some reason, decided to make a clean break with most of his past life and could not be easily persuaded to cross that barrier. He was not hostile when I tried to reach him, in fact he seemed, a little bit, sometimes, to welcome getting back in touch. But no matter what his intentions, he never followed through. He did not treat us any differently, sad to say, than he did his family. Shawn's birthday greetings to Robin on Facebook went as unanswered as mine did. The guy just didn't seem to want to communicate. Sometimes you really can't get blood from a stone.

I never gave up hope that we might see him at a future reunion. But, in early February, I got a Facebook message from Shawn, saying his father had passed away in early December. I didn't learn any details, such as what he died from. He was 75. I believe Marsha survives him.

When I was writing this, I reached out to Shawn again, trying to get some biographical background. He replied that he couldn't help much. He said he had not talked to his father in over 20 years. Shawn lives in Sarasota now; they lived on opposite sides of the peninsula, a couple of hours apart, but apparently they never got together to go fishing or play golf or whatever folks do down there. When he heard Robin had died, Shawn called Robin's lawyer to find out what arrangements had been made. The lawyer said he was surprised to learn that Robin had children.

Why Robin chose to cut himself off from family and friends, I have no idea, and won't speculate. It's very sad—sad that he is gone, and sadder still perhaps that he shut people who loved him, and what could have been a supportive network of old school friends, almost completely out of his life. I hope he was happy with the choices he made. Rest in peace, Old Roomie.

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