I owe so much to John Robinson.
John hired me into my first job at NOAA. When we first started working together, it was a little difficult to figure him out. Before NOAA, he had worked in Mission Control for the Apollo 11 mission and had that cool head of someone who never seemed surprised, no matter how much stress came his way. He carried this approach with him when he started at NOAA. That, and an amazing amount of creativity and energy.
By the time I started at NOAA, John had already founded NOAA’s Hazardous Materials Response Program and provided the vision for Computer Aided Management of Emergency Operations. Next time you consult a Smartphone, think about John having the vision of a computer-aided tool that responders could use for quick decisions at the local level. That was 1984.
John and I worked side-by-side through some of the biggest oil spills in our nation’s history like the Ixtoc and the Exxon Valdez. He was like an environmental paramedic—showing up on the scene with his gear, checking the status of the “patient,” performing triage. In 1991, John mobilized NOAA resources in response to the oil spills in Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf during the Persian Gulf War. Later, he hosted a two-week training event to bring scientists to the U.S. from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and other Mideast nations.
John’s influence on how I carry out my job continues to this day. He didn’t direct. He led. Directing can be done from a desk, hundreds of miles away. Leading happens in the field. If we took a risk, he was taking a risk. If we were getting dirty, he was getting dirty.
That’s how John was. He took the same approach after retiring from NOAA, helping to found Heal the Ocean in Santa Barbara. He created the first septic system map for the city and invented a storm water filter. And he was out in the field again, investigating local creeks to identify a test site for the organization’s “Adopt-a-Drain” program.
I am grateful to John for his vision, energy, and the leadership lessons I learned from him. My thoughts go out to John’s wife, Francesca Cava; his sons John Robinson Jr., Steven Robinson, Keith Robinson, and daughter Robin Goodson; and his three grandchildren.
Thank you, John.
— David Kennedy
NOS Assistant Administrator