You may have seen the obituary last month when actor Tim Robbins’ father, Gil Robbins, passed away. He was an old friend of our family who had a profound affect on me in the late 1950s. Gil directed my parents in their church choir in Pomona. He also gave me clarinet lessons, taught music at our school, and directed the boys’ choir where Michael Stewart and I first sang together. Gil was a talented musician who found delight in music as a key element of life. I loved his quirkiness and that he didn’t simply ‘teach’ music. He would seek the unusual--sometimes reading to us from Beethoven’s biography exposing us to the human side of the musical genius. I recall one occasion where he brought a portable pump organ to class, set it up in the class room and proceeded to play-sing-alongs as he huffed and puffed and pumped the pedals. Not everyone was impressed, but I loved it.
His work with the Glee Club at Pomona Catholic High School led to meeting John Stewart and eventually playing bass with him in a folk trio called The Cumberland Three. They signed with Roulette and moved to New York where he remained until retiring. His departure left a void in my musical life until I met John Stewart a few months later. I followed Gil’s career when John left the Cumberland Three to join the Kingston Trio and in the mid-60s would occasionally see him when We Five was in the Big Apple.
Gil went on to play with Harry Belafonte and The Highwaymen and though he was not ‘man on the street’ famous in the classic sense, he was definitely a player. Along with his wife Mary, who was active in children’s theater the last time I saw her, they taught countless of kids like me to embrace music and the performing arts (and Mary died only weeks after he did).
We communicated for while by email when it first appeared, but only enough to regret not really getting to know him as an adult. He will always hold a special place in my heart, and with thanks I say, “Farewell.”