My father, Peter Robertson, passed somewhere between April 15 and 16, 1997. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, wish for his advice, remember a goofy moment, and feel deeply sad that he left us so soon. More than anything, though, I feel very grateful for the 36 years I got with him.
He always liked to tell the story of being born in a cabin in Wyoming, though the reality is that my adventure-prone/family-avoidant grandfather had come to Wyoming to try to start a dude ranch, which he abandoned after (1) his father-in-law joined them to keep an eye on him; and (2) his second child (my uncle) was born. Dad ultimately spent most of his childhood in St. Louis, as a white kid surrounded by privilege who rooted for civil rights and Jackie Robinson.
He was a lawyer who devoted his professional life to advocating — in state government, at the EEOC, and as a consultant — for civil rights and specifically equal employment opportunity. Outside his professional life, he enjoyed languages, travel, the coast of Maine, card games, the St. Louis Cardinals, fried eggs over easy, trains, grilling in the snow, pretending to understand my brother’s Chem E thesis, Christmas morning, and his almost endless extended family. Nothing made him happier than gathering everyone around the table — at home or a restaurant — for a long, conversational meal. He’d show up at our colleges or law/grad schools and gather up a big group of classmates and friends to go out to dinner. Nothing fancy – ever. Most commonly a diner, or some egregiously Americanized Chinese restaurant (lemon chicken, anyone?). After he passed, many of his professional colleagues told us similar stories: he was always gathering everyone together for a friendly dinner after any event. With that in mind, in creating his headstone, Bruce and I paraphrased a line from MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech —
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
and added this plaque:
Peter Clendenin Robertson
November 5, 1935 – April 16, 1997.
“Let us sit down together at a table of brotherhood.”
Love and miss him, and am deeply grateful for everyone who has shared his stories over the years. If you knew him, grab some friends and remember him over a plate of lemon chicken.
Update: here’s a post with additional fun photos: https://thoughtsnax.com/2010/11/05/photographic-tribute-to-my-dad/