By Ken & Tim Robinson • Written July 2014
From his beginnings as an ad man at the Kent News Journal for John Fournier Sr. in 1948, to his ultimate role as publisher of several community newspapers, Gerald S. (Jerry) Robinson (1920-2014) never forgot the word “community” in his efforts.
He doubled as a sportswriter, covering the Kent Royals, and created the term “Pete Homer” for his undying effort to find something good about the team’s losing record.
After four years, he was given a chance to run his own paper in 1952. He jumped at the chance to edit and manage the paper in White Center “but only if I can buy it,” he told banker and benefactor John Mueller of Burien. Mueller agreed, so Jerry took over with the January 4th edition that year.
Beginning in 1956, Jerry spearheaded a drive to build a swimming pool for the Salvation Army, including several promotional pieces to encourage readers to donate funds. The Red Shield Youth Club Pool was opened with great celebration 18 months later.
That same year, he encouraged the businessmen in town to help sponsor a Seattle SeaFair entry, with a queen and her court riding on a yet-to-be-built float. By 1958, those efforts paid off with a Grand Sweepstakes Award; quite an accomplishment for the dirty little town of White Center, with more bars than dress shops.
He did not stop there. He lobbied King County commissioner Ed Munro for planters down main street to slow the traffic and allow shoppers some safety. He also got the potholes filled by lobbying businessmen to create an LID to pave more than two lanes of 16th Avenue so the ladies wouldn’t have to step into mud puddles when they came to shop.
Growing up in a family of 10 in Portland, OR, Robinson never knew the family was poor. His beloved alcoholic father and very pious mother, “whose lips would never touch liquor,” were guiding lights, with different goals for him.
With little money for rent during the Great Depression, Jerry said his father would come home and ask the family to pack up. They were leaving for another place where the landlord had no history of his dad’s inability to actually pay the rent. The family moved five times in 10 years, but sometimes never more than a few blocks from the last place, allowing Gerald and his siblings to stay in the same schools.
He would escort his mother, Eva, to church each Sunday, walking down Mallory Avenue where he would eventually be baptized at age 10. He never knew why he had to wait so long but suggested it was because he was such a good kid they may not have needed to, relenting only because it was mom’s little insurance policy.
Jerry Robinson was a fierce fighter for the underdog. For many, many years, he championed the disadvantaged poor of White Center’s housing projects. He would often take his own kids along to ride the fire trucks along the streets where we could help distribute bags of groceries during the holidays and give us a first-hand look at the struggles of the less fortunate.
The newspapers blossomed in the halcyon days of the ’50s. Jerry met Al Sneed, who also had been helped by Mueller to get started in publishing. Jerry and Al became very close and often partnered in joint ventures, like Rotary Offset Sales Company, where they ventured back east to Philadelphia, PA to buy the very first offset printing press west of the Mississippi River at the time. It was a very risky but sensational success and likely was the advent of the printed circular you see today as inserts in your Sunday newspaper.
It was Jerry Robinson’s ardent wish that his newspapers go on serving the communities in which they are distributed, to notice the lives of the people who live there.
Jerry, who died on Memorial Day, May 26, was preceded in death by his first wife, Lee Bower Robinson (1968) and his second wife, Elsbeth Warsow McDaniel Robinson (2011). He is survived by his sister, Norma Coockin (Billy Joe) of Gresham, OR and children Mike (Julie) of Tacoma, Ken (Debbie) of Mill Creek, Tim (Eileen) of Federal Way, Pat (Kimberly) of Seattle, Scott (Mauria) of Auburn as well as Carla Warsow of Burien, Linda McDaniel (Charlie) of Burien and Michael McDaniel (Barb) of Snoqualmie and eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.