Robinson feted for 90th birthday; he raised curtain high for CMU theater

Bill Robinson, center, greets some of the many friends and former colleagues and students who attended a celebration of his 90th birthday Sunday in the Colorado Mesa University Ballroom. Robinson was head of the theater department at the school from 1960 to 1988, as Mesa Junior College became a four-year institution.

Bill spent three years in the U.S. Army “and was fortunate to be stationed near London for about eight months. Naturally, all his pay went for theatre tickets.”

-Excerpt from Bill Robinson’s bio in a 1987 Mesa College play program

If Colorado Mesa University’s theater department is a tree, Bill Robinson is the roots because, as several people explained, he is not only the reason CMU’s theater department has grown, he is the reason it exists at all.

Robinson was honored Sunday during a 90th birthday party on campus, bringing together hundreds of family and friends to shower gratitude and affection upon the man former students call “a second father” and former colleagues called “generous” or “tireless.”

Clad in a pink sportcoat and his trademark bow tie, Robinson shook as many hands as possible Sunday afternoon, but shook his head when the crowd serenaded him with “Happy Birthday,” as if he didn’t deserve it.

“There will never be anyone like him,” said longtime friend and former colleague Cheo Humphries, who taught physical education at the school from 1962 until 1988.

Robinson, who was given a clean bill of health three months ago after being diagnosed with throat cancer, was head of the Grand Junction school’s theater department from 1960 until 1988, watching the Grand Junction school grow from one building as Mesa Junior College to a four-year school called Mesa State College.

It is now, of course, a university with a thriving theater department that performs in The William S. Robinson Theatre.

“That was a great honor,” he said of having the theater named after him in the mid-1990s.

A longtime lover of theater, Robinson poured his theatrical passion and love of people into his job at-then Mesa Junior College and when the time came for him to return to his native West Virginia or remain in western Colorado post-retirement, he opted to stay here.

“This was home,” he said.

On Sunday, then, it became necessary for family and friends scattered across the country to travel to Grand Junction to celebrate with Robinson.

Some traveled from the East Coast. Some came from the West Coast. Some came from prestigious jobs they credit Robinson for teaching them the skills to have.

Tee Scatuorchio, Mesa Junior College student from 1970-72, flew to Colorado from New York City, where he owns a production company called Tee and Jam.

I’m so excited to be here,” he said. “I feel like Bill and his wife (Mai) taught us so many life lessons I still carry with me today.”

Although John Byers did not graduate with Scatuorchio, Byers, a student at Mesa College from 1983-87, was equally excited about attending Robinson’s birthday party Sunday.

Byers is the company manager for Cirque de Soleil “O” at the Bellagio casino and hotel in Las Vegas.

“He has impacted so many lives,” Byers said. “He’s the root for a lot of us in a professional sense and in a non-professional sense, too. He’s like a second father.”


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