The Bill and Bonnie Robinson Celebration, at Spokane's beautiful Davenport Hotel, included reminiscences by many of the Robinsons' longtime friends and colleagues. One of those folks, Chuck Boppell, '64, longtime chairman of Whitworth's board of trustees and a close Robinson pal, provided three short anecdotes that chronicled Bill's generosity and thoughtfulness. Though Chuck never spoke my name, one of those anecdotes was all about something Bill did for me -- something I'll never forget; something that causes people to ooh and aah whenever I tell the story.
In late winter 2003, I was cleaning up my office on a Friday afternoon, having just sent that spring's issue of Whitworth Today off to the printer. The phone rang, and I picked it up. "Mitch?" Bill said. "Yes?" "What're you doing?" "Just getting ready to go home," I told him. "Well," he said, "what are you doing Monday?" "Um, working," I replied. "Want to go to a Lakers game?" he asked. "Sure!" I said, thinking that the Lakers were coming to Seattle, and that Bill was organizing a little Whitworth outing. "Okay," he said. "Here's the deal." He went on to tell me that he had tickets on the floor -- ON THE FLOOR -- for the following Monday's Lakers/Clippers game at the Staples Center, in L.A. He wanted to give me an extra ticket he had, because he knew that I was a lifetime Lakers fan (that has changed drastically, but at that moment I still loved me some Lakers), and he thought I'd appreciate it more than anyone else he knew. "You can use my frequent flyer miles," Bill said, "and Bonnie and I will pick you up at the airport. All you need to do is get your plane ticket and find a place to stay overnight."
Walking into the Staples Center with Bill (with two Bills, actually -- the incredibly generous donor who gave the prez the tickets is also a Bill) was pretty much the stuff of which sports fans' dreams are made. We walked down, down, down the stairs, through the "cheap" seats, until we were standing right there on the hardwood, not 10 feet away from Shaquille O'Neal, who was resplendent in white, gold and purple. Shaq, my favorite Laker at that time, is just immense. He could have turned to the other giants on the court -- none of whom really approached his intimidating size -- and said, "Who's your daddy?" with total impunity. I could sleep in one of his shoes. Big dude.
Bill yelled at Rick Fox, at that time a Laker forward, playfully disparaging Fox's alma mater. Fox shouted out a funny reply, looking right at Bill. We were that close to the action. Bill called his buddies and told them to watch the game, and I could tell that he was really enjoying himself. I was wishing I'd brought my cell phone (my L.A. family could have seen me right there on the floor, across from Jack Nicholson's seat!), but since I wasn't phone-bound, I was able to witness the development of a Bill Robinson story. During warmups, an errant pass bounced slowly toward us. I caught it, bounced it gently back to a group of players, and Kobe Bryant picked it up and took it in for an easy layup. Bill began a second round of cell calls, telling his buds about the errant pass; the story grew. In his final call (a message to then-athletics director Scott McQuilkin, '84, I believe), he said, "You should have seen what just happened. Terry Mitchell picked off a loose ball, fired it in to Kobe, and he took it to the hole for a slam!" Though I'd always been somewhat famous among my friends for the level of my Lakers fanaticism, this was my first brush with athletic glory.
Maybe the years following that game were so anticlimactic that I lost some of my interest in the Lakers. Certainly, the Shaq trade further deadened my ardor. And the de-evolution of the Lakers into "Kobe's Team" extinguished the fire. But I have the best memory of that game -- of seeing a team I'd loved forever, up close and in the flesh. Of laughing at and with Bill and chatting with him about the game. Of experiencing something that I would never have been able to do otherwise. And why did that happen? Because of Bill Robinson.
After 17 years of a great working relationship, it could never be easy to say goodbye to Bill. But to bid farewell to a guy who'd do something wonderful like that for one of his employees? That's tough, indeed.
Of course, Bill won't let any of us feel bad. Late last summer, he called about something I was editing, and after we transacted some business (or, as Professor Emeritus Ross Cutter would say, "After we'd discoursed at the operational level"), I told him that I'd heard he was planning to leave at the end of the 2009-10 academic year. "Yeah," he said. "It's time." Since Bill is just a year older than I am, I'd hoped he'd stick around 'til I was ready to retire. "I was hoping you could hold off a few more years," I said; "I thought maybe we could go out together." "Oh, Terry," Bill replied, "Bonnie wouldn't like that at all."
I cracked up -- who wouldn't? -- and I, along with everyone else at Whitworth, honored Bill's spoken wish that we'd leave the goodbyes until the end of the school year and his unspoken wish that we wouldn't get all gooey about his departure. Now that year is behind us, the students have gone home, the campus is quiet, we've met our new president and are excited about what he brings to Whitworth and who he is as a human being . . . and there's still a little lump in my throat as I write this.
Thanks for the memories, Bill. Thanks for that amazing trip to the Staples Center. Thanks for everything.