Remembering John Robinson

John was not only an original NRDC board member but also a very dear friend.

John Adams (left) and John Robinson (far right)

It is with the deepest sadness and warmest affection that I share the news that our dear friend and honorary trustee John Robinson passed away peacefully last month with Barbara, his wife of more than 60 years, at his side. From his founding support to his decades of leadership, John left an indelible mark on NRDC. He was a special person, one heck of a nice guy, and NRDC would not be who we are today without him.

John was a conservationist with a special love for birds, acquired while spending time at his family’s house on the Chesapeake Bay. He transferred his interest in wildlife and waters to a lifetime of support for NRDC. More than once, he was there when we needed him most, and his guidance has influenced us from our earliest legal challenges to our role in the vanguard of resistance to the environmental assaults of the past four years.

John was a lawyer with a specialty in military affairs at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York five decades ago, when I left that office to join with a handful of other young lawyers to found NRDC.

John became one of our founding donors. He introduced the fledgling organization to another lifelong environmentalist and NRDC benefactor, Bill Beinecke, who provided us with our first office in New York and, later, his remarkable daughter Frances, who came to NRDC as an intern, evolved into a fierce environmentalist in her own right, and served as NRDC president for 10 impressive years.

In the late 1980s, a generous contribution from John enabled us to buy our permanent offices at 40 West 20th Street. That was no small statement. We were working to build NRDC, one solid supporter at a time. John was there with us every step of the way, affirming our value and reassuring prospective backers by putting his trust, and his money, behind us.

An original member of our board of directors, John brought a collegial yet authoritative voice that helped to define NRDC’s institutional identity as a trusted force for holding polluters to account, both in the court of public opinion and in our courts of law.

In the early days, not everyone was on board with the activist nature of NRDC’s work. Even for some of our most dedicated supporters, the idea of an advocacy group filing lawsuits against polluters and the government was a novel approach. Getting used to it took time.

John, though, was a steady, strong, and vital advocate for our aggressive posture. He stood for the principles we sought to uphold, and he never shied from a courtroom fight. The suits we’ve filed—more than 130 of them over the past four years—to stand up to the Trump administration’s reckless assault on our air, water, wildlife, and lands are part of John’s enduring legacy.

John served as a trustee for 35 years and, for the past 15 years, as an honorary trustee for what was, for him, both a source of pride and a labor of love.

We never had a picnic that John didn’t come to. He loved spending time with his NRDC family. It’s who he wanted to be.

On November 28, after Barbara recited the 23rd Psalm to John, he slipped away comfortably and at peace, she said, “while looking for birds out the window and holding my hand.”

We will miss our friend and colleague more than we can say. We will remember him as one of the leading architects of NRDC. And we will cherish, always, the times that we shared.

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