Lest we forget: Ray Robinson

November 2, 2017 · 0 comments

Ray Robinson was among the last of his generation of sportswriters and authors. I had the pleasure of speaking with him on several occasions in my capacity as sports editor for the NJ Jewish News. He passed away yesterday at the age of 96.

Marty Appel, shown with Robinson (right) at the dedication of a plaque at Lou Gehrig’s birthplace, was kind enough to allow me to use his tribute, posted on Facebook yesterday.

A special friend….and a New York treasure, author/editor Ray Robinson passed away at 5 pm today at New York Hospital, a day after suffering a stroke at his apartment on East 90th Street, where he lived for 63 years. As some of you may recall, his wife Phyllis died on March 13 at 92. Ray’s devotion to her care as she suffered through Alzheimer’s Disease was perhaps his finest hour. They were married for 68 years. Ray would have turned 97 on December 4.

Ray was sharp to the end, and he looked forward to every phone call that kept his mind alert and active. Loved to talk politics, media, and of course, baseball. He was a Columbia graduate and graduation day was the day Lou Gehrig died in 1941. Gehrig was special to him — he met Lou, and wrote a classic biography of him, as well as books about Knute Rockne, Will Rogers, Yankee Stadium, Christy Mathewson, Tim McCarver, and many more. He was the editor of the great annual paperback, “Baseball Stars of 19XX” which were must-have books back in the day. There, he employed the likes of Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap, George Vecsey, Al Silverman, Arnold Hano, Al Silverman, Charles Einstein, and many more – often for $20 an article! He was, improbably, the editor of Seventeen and Good Housekeeping magazines for many years, as well as the long defunct Pageant and Coronet.

He was an EIGHT DECADE author, published from the 1940s to the 2010s. He did an ebook on baseball and US Presidents in this decade. Everyone wanted a column from him each year on Gehrig — he was in the bleachers on Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day in 1939. (He probably wrote a dozen Gehrig guest columns for the Times). He was on the Board of Directors for the New York (Lou Gehrig) Chapter of the ALS Association.

I knew him for some 45 years. We used to have lunch at Billy’s (no longer there) on First Avenue. He was a vital part of our monthly “Larry Ritter Lunch Group” which is now in its 26th year and we have met in recent years near his home — so he wouldn’t be away from Phyllis for long. Otherwise he was always happy to walk to wherever we met.

We did events at Columbia together and attended a plaque dedication at Lou Gehrig’s birthplace some years ago. Ray was old enough to have lived through and experienced the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Kennedy assassination, a few more wars, 18 presidents, and the computer/internet age (which he managed to ignore, still working his typewriter).

I take pleasure in believing that there were no questions I neglected to ask him. Remarkable to get first hand accounts of almost everything that has mattered in the US for the last century.

Bob Costas texted me today: “What a life. What a good man.”

Ray and Phyllis had three children – Nancy, Tad and Steve ….. plus his family of admirers who had the pleasure of his company on a monthly basis — at least — for all these years.

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