There is no more fitting tribute to Robbie
than what was written by his friend and mentor George Moffat at the time
of Robbie's death and originally printed in the October 1986 Soaring
On Sunday August
24, 1986, U.S. 15-Meter champion Robert Robertson was killed in the crash of his well known Ventus, XT, just after takeoff at Middletown, N.Y. He died instantly.
If there were a Pilot-of-the-Year award in soaring, Robbie would have won it hands down for his performances this season. Winning by a wide margin in that Regionals which was almost a
Nationals at Chester. The following month he, together with Karl Striedieck and John Seymour, set the all-time distance record for flight around a triangular course. In August, just two weeks before his death, he capped the ambition of his brief but meteoric soaring career by winning the hotly contested 15-Meter Nationals at Uvalde.
Robbie's quick success did not always make him popular with those who had been soaring longer but less intensely. He landed out a lot, especially in the first few years, to some
I-told-you-so grins by the more cautious. Robbie knew that the only way to define the
limits of geography, weather, or self was to exceed those limits. Stirling Moss, the great English race driver, said that one of the requirements for the great ones is the luck to survive the necessary crashes as one defines the parameters.
Robbie knew this and was always the first in the air, impatient with those of us waiting to gobble a sandwich or be sure of staying up.
Robbie liked to head into the mountains (unlandable) at Wurtsboro or try the notoriously weak areas to see just how weak they really are. In early Nationals like Ephrata he often overreached, getting low and losing valuable time or going down. But he was also beginning to win, especially on the weak and difficult days. And that's where it all starts, the ability to win; that and the ability to minimize losing. This year showed that
Robbie had arrived.
Robbie so good, winning so convincingly after a soaring career of only half a dozen years? He had a high degree of intelligence, together with the sensitivity which so often accompanies it. He had great individuality, departing from what could have been the easy life of his aristocratic English background to live
in many places, finally feeling most at home in the informal world of America. He had
courage, flying his best on difficult days over difficult terrain
combined with an endless quest for knowledge. He was a perfectionist, with obsessive care for detail, spending hundreds of hours on improvements such as the first Ventus tail ballast tank. These are, of course, necessary qualities for success in any highly competitive sport and often go along with a fairly abrasive personality. With
Robbie, however, there was a remarkable grace under pressure, a pervasive sense of humor and helpfulness. It is hard to remember
Robbie without seeing his infectious grin.
Robbie pushed the possibilities, loved life on the edge-and sometimes cantilevered well beyond the edge. He came to soaring only after highly successful encounters with motor racing, skiing (fast, of course) and scuba diving. Lately he had taken up windsurfing and was clearly the best of our highly informal Competition Pilots Windsurfing Association, especially when high winds were driving others ashore.
These things were one side of his life. Since he didn't like to talk about himself, a lot of soaring friends would be surprised that he built fine houses
for a living, and was a superb cabinet maker, fond of making traditional furniture. Classic cars he had restored were prized possessions of those lucky enough to own them. Guests at his home discovered him to be a gourmet cook, serving esoteric recipes with the same casual grace that characterized everything he did. He was the quintessential Renaissance Man.
The memorial service after his death, organized by old flying friends Chip
Bearden and Doug Jacobs, was a who's who of American soaring. Doug Jacobs, Karl Striedieck, Eric Mozer, Sam Giltner, Mike Opitz, John Seymour, and Charlie Spratt among others from the competition scene were there, but also actor and long-time cross-country soaring rival Chris Reeve, singer/pilot Ed Kilbourne, and a host of friends and co-workers from other worlds which Robbie inhabited. There were the crews who had loved him, Rod Reed and Sue Bury, and of course Sylvia with whom he'd been so close for several years and who had given him so much. For an hour in the twilight we sat in the garden outside the lovely woods-surrounded house Robbie had built largely by himself, perhaps a hundred of us in all, trading remembrances of this wonderful
friend and remarkably varied man. His going leaves us lessened. John Donne, the great 17th century poet and divine wrote:
No man is an IIand, intire of it selfe;
every man is a peece of the Continent,
a part of the maine; if a Clod be
washed away by the Sea, Europe is the
lesse as well as if a Promontorie were,
as well as if a Mannor of they friends
or of thine owne were; any mans death
diminishes me, because I am involved
in Mankinde; And therefore never
send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Robbie's death leaves a large piece washed out of the lives of his friends, a large loss to the world of soaring.
-GEORGE B. MOFFAT XX
Reprinted from the October 1986 Soaring