MICHAEL S. ROBBINS - Eulogy by Louise Robbins

June 4, 1940 Chicago, Il - 12/12/2012 Los Angeles, CA


Thank you all for being here. We very much appreciate your support.

Mike’s brother Jeff and I collaborated to tell you a little about Mike. 

Mike was born in Chicago on June 4, 1940 to Esther and Jerry Robbins. Jeff was born 5 years later.

Chicago winters did not agree with his mother who suffered from arthritis. Her doctor told her she needed to be in a warmer climate and so, in 1947 when Mike was 7 his parents moved the family to the southwest, where the desert air would, presumably, help Esther. They had looked for housing in Phoenix and Tucson but it was after the war and housing was scarce. Douglas AZ was the only place they could find to live.  Unfortunately, Mike’s dad still worked in Chicago, commuting back to Douglas whenever time and money allowed. This left Esther, who didn’t drive, alone in a strange place with two young children. Mike recalled Douglas AZ for many years as a truly god-forsaken place. The family moved to Los Angeles when Mike was 8.

They stayed in a hotel in Santa Monica while looking for a place to live. The problem was that few landlords would rent to a couple with children. So, they found a little 1000 sq. ft. house to buy on Bellingham Avenue in North Hollywood in the San Fernando Valley, the fifth house of 200 being built. In the undeveloped area around them, Mike and Jeff saw snakes, tortoises, and jack rabbits. Early on, it actually snowed enough to make a snowman. Mike loved it! He rode his bike everywhere, watching the construction and enjoying the wide open spaces. I’m sure he learned much of what he knew about building and fixing things by watching those houses going up.

Mike loved construction all his life. After his surgeries, he would walk with Jeff on our street (where there was construction on 3 different houses at the same time.) Mike would start up conversations with the contractors and the workers. He always wanted to know how and why something was done and usually came up with a better way of doing it. 

While growing up near Laurel Canyon and Strathern, there were no telephones, no sidewalks. Esther still didn’t drive, and Jeff’s allergy doctor was on Wilshire Blvd. very near where we’ve lived since 1971. They would walk to Laurel Canyon, take the Asbury Bus Line to the Pacific Electric station where the track crossed Lankershim (the station is still there), take the train to Hollywood and Highland and then go by bus to the doctor. Often, they would then go back up to Hollywood Blvd. take the PE streetcar downtown, do some shopping (all the major department stores were downtown then), and wind up at their dad’s factory at 7th and Los Angeles. Mike and Jeff liked to look down from the 5th story window and watch the big red cars of the Long Beach Line coming out of the PE building. Then their dad would drive them home. Mike always pointed out the steam locomotives to Jeff as they crossed Laurel Canyon back into the valley, both impressed by the clouds of steam and the noise as these trains crossed the road in front of them. They made this trek 3 times a week for 7 years. 

Mike went to San Fernando Junior High school and found himself the victim of the local bullies. Always the problem solver, he learned to avoid them by hanging out with the teachers on the yard at lunchtime. But when Jeff was threatened, Mike got on his bike to face the bullies and protect his little brother. The bullying is probably one of the reasons the family moved out of the valley.

They lived in the Pico/Robertson area for many years. One of the stories Mike used to tell might give you a slightly different view of the Mike Robbins you knew: conservative in his dress, serious about his work, but certainly not mischievous. Well, maybe...Mike and his family lived in the upper level of a duplex. The woman downstairs had her television on from the moment she walked in the door until she went to bed. Apparently it was loud enough to drive the Robbins crazy. They asked her to turn it down but to no avail. So Mike, angelic Mike, found that the wire for her aerial ran right by one of their windows. It was one of those double wires and he cut one side and a few inches away cut the other. Needless to say, her television stopped working and Mike got the last laugh when the TV serviceman arrived and took her television to the shop for repairs. He could be devious, our Mike. Unfortunately, the repairman ultimately figured out the problem, but Mike was still one step ahead of him. He created some electronic gizmo that caused only static to come out of the downstairs TV. It went back to the shop!

Mike was always interested in electronics and for his birthday would get money to buy electronic parts for something he was making. His father would drive him to the hardware store, and Mike would go in to get what he needed. Jerry was not too thrilled when Mike would get back in the car with a little bag of nuts and bolts and wires that he’d spent the entire present on. For many years, when Mike would go to buy something that cost a little more than usual, he could hear his father saying, “What do you need it for?”

At age 12, Mike helped repair television sets (and, as we know, he later used his knowledge to stop them from working!) and went on calls with the TV repairman earning money during Christmas vacation. He could figure out how to fix just about anything.

As teenager he worked at Figart’s, a hardware/electronics supply store in the Carthay Circle neighborhood. He was young, but he knew his stuff and was given adult responsibilities there. When the owner retired,  he offered to sell the store to Mike. We considered it but decided the retail life wasn’t for us.
Mike’s high school experience was centered on the Radio Club and his mentor, Jack Brown, and his good friends Arnie Sillman, Larry Weide, and Howard Carlin. Upon his graduation from high school, Mike received several academic awards, including the Bank of America award.  

He graduated from Hamilton and went on to UCLA where he was a physics major. Let’s just say that physics really wasn’t his forte, but Mike always claimed that his diploma looked just like everyone else’s. At UCLA Mike was a photographer for the Daily Bruin, photographing sporting and special events, getting  a photo of Senator John Kennedy when he spoke at Royce Hall. Mike was always very proud of that picture.

While in college and living on Point View Street in Los Angeles, Mike heard screaming one day from the car wash on the corner. He could see that a customer had been caught between two cars. He ran across the street and, to keep people who didn’t know what they were doing from putting a tourniquet on the injured man, Mike wrapped the his bloody, broken leg, putting pressure on the bleeding until the paramedics arrived. He started to get up, to turn the man over to the paramedics, but they said, he was doing a great job. When they did take over, Mike went home and passed out!

Mike, the quiet joker, left a note for his parents early one morning, telling them he was going with a friend to test for the military. He had no intention of joining up (his heart murmur wouldn’t have passed muster) but, being Mike, he thought the process would be interesting. He nearly gave his parents a heart attack!

Speaking of pranks, one evening, he loaned Jeff his car (a '55 Chevy) so Jeff could go to his girlfriend's house. Mike must have followed Jeff there and, while Jeff was inside the house, Mike moved the car across the street from where Jeff had parked it. 

Jeff remembers being tortured (along with scores of other people, probably a few in this room) with Mike’s rendition of Charlie and the MTA.

Early in his career, Mike almost went to Alaska to work. The company hired several young graduates but had no assignments or training for them. All of that would begin in Alaska when they got there. While waiting, Mike did a lot of reading. He also visited Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm many times. But he got fed up with not doing anything at work for several months. When he said he was quitting, he was told he couldn’t because the next month’s paychecks were already on the books. When he said he wasn’t coming in anymore, they said that they would still have to pay him and they did! Had he gone to Alaska, he would have been there during a major earthquake. Timing is everything!

Mike then worked a short time for Mattel designing electronic toys. That was fun for a while. Then he had an interesting job offer in Chicago, where he moved over Thanksgiving weekend, 1963. He lasted all of four months. Winter in Chicago was not Mike’s thing. He found it too cold outside and way too warm inside. He would go outside in the morning in his robe and start the car and turn on the heater. He’d go back inside, shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and then go outside again and lift the ice off the windshield. Returning to Southern California seemed like a good idea.

Always loving to travel, Mike and his friend Arnie Sillman made a trip out of Mike’s return to LA, first going east, then coming back west, driving thousands of miles. Jeff met them in Wyoming. Jeff recalls that both Mike and Arnie were always wonderful about taking him along. Mike never seemed to exclude Jeff from any activity.

For Jeff, Mike was one of the greatest teachers and motivators that he ever had. In the valley, he included Jeff in building an American Flyer train layout in the garage. Later, he bought Jeff his first locomotive kit which got Jeff started in model railroading. He gave him his first two cameras and taught him the basics of photography. He taught Jeff how to travel and how to camp. He was always supportive of Jeff’s interests. When Jeff began to discover classical music, Mike made sure Jeff had a decent speaker and amp to listen on. Helping Jeff with his novel, Mike spent hours on technical support. He gave love and expertise whenever he helped people and never asked for anything in return.  Mike's love of the national parks was Jeff’s inspiration for his lifelong interest in them as well.

So Mike returned to LA from Chicago to pursue yet another job. Do you remember those “wind-up doll” jokes? I believe it was his friend now Rabbi Douglas Krantz who referred to Mike as the Mike Robbins doll. You wind him up and he quits. But Mike was really never one who liked working for others so he decided to be his own boss. He started the Dynatron Co. which made, what else, electronic widgets. This was when I came into the picture (it was late winter, 1970.) Mike proudly showed me his workshop on Robertson Blvd. I was 20 years old and duly impressed. 

Mike and I had met at his brother’s wedding in 1967. But I was just out of high school and he was a college graduate in business for himself. Not a whole lot in common...yet. We met again at Jeff’s father-in-law’s funeral in February, 1970. Not knowing too many people at the funeral, I hung out with the Robbins and sat with Mike during the service. I remember him asking me what my major was in college. When I told him history, he observed “that and a dime will get you a cup of coffee.” (Based on my salary as a teacher, he wasn’t too far off!)

We went out the next weekend: We saw Mason Williams at the Troubadour and went to Nibbler’s for dessert. Both he and the server looked at me oddly when I ordered chocolate layer cake and non-fat milk. “Why bother?” he asked. “Why waste the calories?” I replied. 

Mike took me hiking at Vasquez Rocks the next day. I should have known the outdoors would be a big part of our life when, on the way home, he stopped at a shoe store and bought me hiking boots! (On our second date!)

Just three weeks later, Mike proposed. His friend Howard accused him of robbing the cradle (I was almost 21 and he was almost 30). But we were in love and were married in August of the same year, 1970. Not exactly a long engagement, but it seems to have worked out. We had our 42 anniversary this past summer. I guess he was a keeper! 

Ours was a loving, peaceful marriage (neither one of us liked to argue).  A former sitter for our boys, now a friend, emailed me the other day after hearing of Mike’s death. Alan wrote that our family was often his salvation and reality-check when life at home as “out of touch.” He went on to say “You probably don’t realize how often I have reflected on yours and Mike’s relationship over the years as a guidepost for the way to live a healthy and beautiful life. I will carry that with me forever.” 

Mike introduced me to Camp Wolverton in Sequoia National Park the year we were married. It was October 31. We left late (I had school, he had work.) We drove up a very dark Highway 99 listening to Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” It was the perfect, spooky setting for the story. We stayed upstairs in the camp lodge that weekend. It was already too cold to camp out.  And so I was introduced to the other love of Mikes’ life: Camp Wolverton. Mike had been the camp director for the boy scout camp for many summers and had worked with the most incredible group of guys over the years. Mike was a natural born leader: he was a problem solver and decision maker and mentor. He loved everything about the camp and the people he felt privileged to work with. Many became lifelong friends who have enriched both our lives.

To give you an idea of the impact Mike had on at least one Wolverton alumni, I received this email from Daniel Silpa:


 “Mike made a profound impact on my life.  I was headed toward the world of hooliganism and petty crimes.  His influence helped turn me toward a more sensible use of my life.  I am an Emergency Medicine physician.  There are several thousand people who are alive because of my clinical practice over the years.  Mike's influence on me helped make this outcome possible.

During the funeral, I will be on duty in the Emergency Room.  I will remember Mike by doing my job caring for sick and injured people.”

Danny Silpa


I don’t think that Mike, ever modest, was ever aware of the impact he had on so many lives.

Scott started going to Wolverton at 6 months, Andrew at 1 year. We spent many summers camping as a family there and with the kids’ friends. In recent years, Mike eagerly awaited the work weekends at the beginning of the summer when first the old staff (and then their families) would meet back at camp to spruce up the place. There were times the work was extensive and Mike would realize he wasn’t 20 years old anymore, but he gloried in the chance to talk to old friends, find out what people were up to and reminisce about the camp. I think a little bit of Mike died when the camp was closed by the park service this past year. It had been the only boy scout camp in a national park and the park service had decided it wanted the land. It had been such an integral part of his existence for so long, it was heartbreaking to know all those wonderful times would never take place there again.

Mike was working for a company called Phasecom when an incredible opportunity arose in 1981: One of the partners was Israeli and had been in the States for 20 some-odd years. He was ready to go back to Israel and wanted a business to run there. Mike was asked to go ahead of Ari and set up an electronics firm in Jerusalem. Scott was almost 8 and Andrew 2 1/2 when we packed our bags (lots of them) and flew to Israel to live in Jerusalem for 6 months. It was quite the experience.  Both our sets of parents came to visit and stayed with us in our apartment. We were given a car to use and boy did we use it! Work closed early on Fridays (Shabbat) and we would take off every weekend, exploring the country. 

I remember one such weekend trip. We’d gone to Eilat and were enjoying the beach. Scott had found friends to play with. I was watching Andrew on some play equipment (donated, by the way by Eilat’s sister city Beverly Hills) when I turned and saw Mike and another man standing at the water’s edge talking to each other. But the odd thing was they were standing side by side, looking out at the water as they spoke.  When asked what they were looking at, Mike told me the topless Scandinavian women had just bounced into the water and the two men were waiting for them to bounce back out! They were not disappointed.

Mike knew the Israel project would be a dead-end in terms of his job in LA, but it was such an incredible opportunity to live in another country that he decided to go for it. We never regretted the decision.

As a family we traveled all around California by car and explored Washington DC and Boston, where the boys got fed up with our interest in Colonial America. I guess Mike and I did overdo the Colonial cemeteries. (For some reason, the kids were not  impressed.)

It was in Washington DC that we looked up Mike’s patent for the infrared extension system at the Library of Congress as well as his book on electronic clocks and watches.   While at Zantech, Mike had three more patents registered in his name: a background music controller, an interference resistant infrared extension system, and a remote control unit integrator console. (Please don’t ask me what any of these did!) Mike wound up working at Xantech for about 25 years. (So much for the Mike Robbins doll, Douglas!)

Mike loved being retired. He could sit at the computer to his heart’s content, emailing, surfing the WEB, learning things, working on his family’s genealogy. He read book after book, almost exclusively non-fiction. He was the perennial student, always seeking answers to questions that had no limits as to subject. He was a bit of a Renaissance man in that respect, interested in everything around him. Logical, organized (in his way), analytical, Mike was a can-do person, a problem solver, a thinker outside the box. He was smart. He was articulate. The month-long trips he planned for us to Eastern Europe, Great Britain, Alaska and across the US were absolutely incredible.

Mike shared a love of trains with his brother, Jeff. Much to the relief of the wives (who didn’t share their husband’s rabid interest), Mike and Jeff (who was also retired) would take off on trips exploring old train stations and train museums. Jeff loved the train trips w/Mike. He was great to travel with because he was interested in everything. Also, he always asked the right technical questions gaining them access by other proud train buffs to places the general public never got to see. Even after his first brain surgery, he and Jeff had their eyes out on several train museums they had missed.

Mike loved his sons and was always so very proud of them. He was a wonderful father, interested in all they did and spending lot of time with them. As Scott and Andrew grew up, he was involved with them in Boy Scouts, was there to root for them at their soccer and baseball games, he helped with homework, and loved traveling with them. He made sure parent teacher conferences were in the evening so he could attend. Mike took the boys backpacking in Sequoia National Park; their love of the park was especially gratifying for him.  When Scott had a decrepit jeep towed home, Mike helped him rebuild it. That crazy car nearly killed Scott, but that’s another story. Mike was the consummate teacher: he knew so much and wanted to share it all with his kids. Scott, Andrew: Dad was so proud of you as adults. You are both successful, confident men, loving husbands to your soul mates Shannon and Kate and wonderful fathers to our beautiful grandsons, Jack, Max, Noah, and George. I like to think your dad had something to do with that. Dad loved that you wanted to spend time with us, that you looked forward to being with family. That was so important to him. And to me.

In October we moved Mike to Shalom Garden, a wonderful board and care about a mile and a half from the house. The staff there was attentive and loving, and it became my second home.

I know it was time for Mike to go. The Mike we knew and loved had been gone for months. But after 42 wonderful years, it’s very hard to say goodbye. I would have liked to see him glow with pride at his sons’ future accomplishments. I would have liked him to see our grandchildren grow. I would have liked to have grown old with him. But this was not to be. Mike: loving husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle, friend...rest in peace. We loved you and we will miss you very much.


Louise Robbins