Stanford Report Online

Stanford Report, Jan. 14, 2004

James Robinson, award-winning Stanford Report editor, dies at 44


James Robinson, an award-winning journalist and editor of Stanford Report, died Tuesday, Jan. 13, of complications from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He was 44.

Robinson, a native of Newton, Mass., was the associate director of the Stanford News Service and edited the university's faculty/staff newspaper. Under his editorship, the paper won the Gold Medal for Excellence from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in 2002. He came to Stanford in 1998 following a distinguished career at daily newspapers that included reporting jobs at the Springfield (Mass.) Republican, Hartford Courant, Houston Chronicle and Agence France-Presse.

"Our community is profoundly saddened by the loss of James Robinson," Stanford President John Hennessy said. "He touched many of us with his professional and personal integrity, and we will always be inspired by his courageous fight against cancer. Although James will be deeply missed by his colleagues, we are fortunate that his presence will live on in the words he wrote and the many friendships he made."

Robinson was a certified interpreter and spoke French, Italian and Spanish fluently. His love of travel began early: At the age of 12, he spent six months attending middle school and traveling in France. It also was during middle school that he developed his love for journalism. At 13 he joined the staff of the Newton Times, then a local nonprofit newspaper, where he worked as a volunteer, setting headlines.

An inveterate newshound, Robinson found time during a recent European vacation to keep up with world events. Throughout his life he traveled extensively. At age 12, he spent six months in France, touring the country and attending middle school. As a college student, he studied in Italy, Spain and France. He was a certified interpreter and spoke French, Italian and Spanish fluently. Courtesy: Ken Wingard

While attending Wesleyan University, he spent several semesters studying in Italy, Spain and France. Following his graduation from Wesleyan, Robinson attended Georgetown University, where he received international certification as a simultaneous interpreter. Robinson, who had shown early promise in journalism as co-editor of the student newspaper at Newton South High School, moved to New York City to attend Columbia University's School of Journalism. He earned his master's degree in 1985 and won the John McHugh Award for a radio documentary on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.

Upon graduation from Columbia, Robinson worked briefly for the Springfield Republican before taking a reporting job at the Hartford Courant, where he worked until 1989. That year, he took a job covering urban affairs at the Houston Chronicle. As a result of his broad knowledge and language ability, Robinson was called upon to cover a wide spectrum of issues at the Chronicle, including the Loma Prieta earthquake, Vice President Dan Quayle's trip to Europe and the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. He also covered presidential elections in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

Robinson's interest in journalism extended to photography. Above, a photo he took while vacationing in Puerto Rico. As a reporter for the Houston Chronicle, Robinson's language proficiency helped him nab assignments covering former Vice President Dan Quayle's trip to Europe and the Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. Photo: James Robinson

A colleague at the Chronicle, Clifford Pugh, said Robinson was a "thorough and fearless reporter." And although Robinson left the paper in 1995, Pugh said "officials on his beat still ask about him."

Robinson returned to Washington, D.C., in 1995 to take a job with Agence France-Presse, where he served as congressional correspondent and in numerous editing capacities. Three years later, Robinson moved to San Francisco to work for Stanford News Service, where he quickly rose from reporter to assistant director and ultimately associate director. At Stanford, Robinson was admired by faculty and staff for the depth of his analysis, his accurate reporting and editing, fluid writing style and collegial spirit.

"James was the consummate newspaperman who also had a keen understanding of the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of higher education," said Elaine Ray, director of Stanford News Service. "He challenged our staff to reach into their creative reserves to give Stanford Report and Stanford Report Online a more dynamic and organic look and feel. Under his guidance the News Service's publications flourished without losing their journalistic edge. We will all miss his dry wit, his warmth, his vitality and his wicked intellect. But most of all, we will just miss him."  

Robinson was a deeply loyal friend and developed lifelong relationships in each of the cities he lived; his 40th birthday was a transcontinental affair, celebrated with friends in San Francisco, Washington and Houston. He loved to entertain and is remembered by all for his broad range of interests, intellectual curiosity and dry sense of humor. In addition to his love of travel, Robinson was an excellent amateur photographer, enjoyed riding his motorcycle and loved music of all kinds -- from classical to jazz to rock.

"James had a caring nature and spirit of adventure that served him well in his journalism career and earned him devoted friends all over the country. His resilience was inspiring," said New York Times Washington Editor Rick Berke, a longtime friend.

Survivors include his partner, Ken Wingard of San Francisco; his parents, John and Olga Robinson, who have homes in Wellesley, Mass., and Meredith, N.H.; his brother, Chase Robinson of Oxford, England; and a nephew and niece.

A memorial celebrating his life will be held at 4 p.m. Friday, Jan. 16, at Stanford Memorial Church. A reception will take place immediately after the service at the Stanford Faculty Club. All are welcome. A committal ceremony will be held at the family cemetery on the Robinson farm in Meredith in the spring.

His family asks that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to a fund established to support the James S. Robinson Award for Student Journalists at Stanford University. Contributions can be sent to the Office of Development, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.

James Robinson