Wearing a hard hat with a giant blowup red stop sign on top, a smiling Vic Robinette once carried a bunch of red, white and blue balloons wrapped around a pole down South Pasadena’s Fourth of July parade route, joining others who saw no need for a second freeway penetrating their town’s precious borders.
One major thoroughfare in the 110 was one too many, thought the freeway fighting contingent, a vast majority holding “No on 710” signs as they took the Independence Day half mile walk along Mission Street displaying their oppositions to a proposed roughly 6-mile tunnel route, starting just outside the Alhambra city limits, coming under South Pasadena, and ending in Pasadena.
Like others, Robinette said no thanks, crying enough is enough, to the effort that went on for decades before the freeway fight prevailed with favorable news for South Pasadena residents when government officials finally stopped it for good.
On another July 4th, a downhome tradition the longtime resident beloved, featuring classic cars, community groups, youth organizations, marching bands and kids on decorated bikes, Robinette joined the town’s former Chamber of Commerce executive director, Scott Feldmann, as the pair dressed like brothers Jake and Elwood to form the Blues Brothers. They became an instant hit, looking and feeling the part, for the energetic, appreciative crowd.
Indeed, he could never overlook an opportunity to share a good laugh, add gusto at any occasion and give back to the city that so much became a part of his life.
“Vic Robinette was much beloved because he was so much fun to be around, goofy jokes and all,” said South Pasadena Mayor Diana Mahmud, one of a large gathering who attended his celebration of life Wednesday morning under a giant tent outside Holy Family Church on Fremont Avenue in the city.
Sad news for the community and all those outside the city he touched came on Thanksgiving night, November 26, 2020, with the announcement of his passing. A one-hour service at the church he regularly attended, with Msgr. Clement J. Connolly presiding, Robinette was remembered for his many contributions. COVID would have interfered with earlier funeral arrangements, so the family purposely held off until cases of the virus significantly subsided, scheduling his memorial on his birthday. Robinette was born June 9, 1944 and died at age 76.
Mahmud delivered the first reading, Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, during the ceremony and later talked about the impact Robinette left on her and those who knew him. “He really enjoyed people and had a profound zest for life,” she said. “Our former city treasurer of many years generously contributed his time and talent to our community, until he was physically unable. Vic was a very special guy, and I can’t think of a more loving couple than he and his wife Gretchen.”
Others words used to describe him – warmth, dedication, multifaceted, joyful and graceful – were heard in true respect for his good name. A short film, “Life, Love, Laughter,” created by one of his two sons, Scott, and his wife, Jennie, showed Vic’s zeal and enthusiasm for life. Scott and Robinette’s other son, Patrick, spoke lovingly of their late father. The same message was clear from longtime friends and South Pasadena residents Peggy O’Leary and John Vandercook, who read Prayers of the Faithful.
A proponent of good grammar, Gretchen, Robinette’s wife, told the story about the day a friend of Vic’s made a badge that looked like the South Pasadena city seal. On it were written the words: “Victor Robinette, South Pasadena Grammar Police.” The comment drew laughter from those on hand.
Patrick talked about his dad one day saying, “The better part of one’s life is that they spend it with their friends. And as I look out here, I think of all the different occasions that correspond with that. He enjoyed nothing more than spending time with his grandchildren.”
Hawaiian shirts were worn by some in the audience, a show of support for one of Vic’s favorite getaways. “Dad always loved a good party,” said Scott, noting that his dad told him in his final hours, while mumbling, struggling to get out words, having trouble breathing, “Everyday is a treasure.”
Reflecting, Scott insisted his dad was more concerned about others than himself – even in the end. “Thank you for being the best father, role model and hero a son could ask for,” he said, fighting back tears.
Some seated under the tent and others outside holding umbrellas to fight off the heat of the sun likely were clients of Robinette, who was a certified public accountant for 30 years. He served as the elected city treasurer of South Pasadena for 15 years, was an AYSO coach, a member and past president of Kiwanis, a board member and treasurer of the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, a board member of Holy Family Church Finance Council, a supporter of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Oneonta Club. He was also highly active as a lector and parishioner at Holy Family Church.
And, of course, he couldn’t pass up the chance to head over to the South Pasadena Fire Department for the annual Fourth of July Pancake Breakfast, followed by the parade, an event he cherished.
Robinette was a 1962 graduate of South Pasadena High School, later moving onto Pasadena City College where he met Gretchen Gayman (SPHS Class of 1963). Love would enter the picture and the couple later married. Following his graduation from UC Berkeley in 1968, Vic and Gretchen served as teachers in the Peace Corps, traveling to Malaysian Borneo to pass along their knowledge before returning to South Pasadena to raise a family.
His obituary, written by family members, pointed out that “Vic’s legacy is rich in love and friendship. He most enjoyed spending time with his family and friends, Always the life of the party, he loved to dance and join in lively discussions about history, politics, films, language, you name it.”
A perfect day for Robinette, according to those closest to him, was “hanging out with his grandsons or enjoying time and relaxing hours with Gretchen at their vacation home in Hawaii.” The pair saw the world together, going off to Southeast Asia on one outing, Europe the next, and not long ago to South Africa for a safari.
“Curiosity, love of family, friends, his Holy Family Church, and community were at the center of Vic’s life,” said South Pasadena Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti, a 20-year member of the City Council, following the celebration. “I was fortunate to have spent many hours with Vic and friends, riding our bikes through the San Gabriel Valley on weekends, enjoying dog pool parties with Vic and his black Lab Jake, who “worked” with Vic and his lovely wife Gretchen at his Accounting practice. He was always active in city government, as a former city treasurer, board member of the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation, Oneonta Club, and frequently active in discussions on important community issues.”
Cacciotti acknowledged Robinette for his devotion to his family, community and his faith. “He deeply loved his wife, Gretchen, his two boys, daughter in law and grandkids,” he said. “Vic always maintained a positive attitude, with a witty, but kind and compassionate disposition. He cared about those less fortunate and he and Gretchen were always involved is so many volunteer and civic activities to make our community a special place in which to live.”
Near the end of Wednesday’s ceremony, Gretchen, Vic’s wife of 55 years, read a poignant poem, “Transformation,” she wrote, summing up her true love for the man she will truly miss:
“Watching the turn tide.
Waves crashing against skeletal cliffs
Rock turns to stone, stone to sand.
Inevitable, this erosion of the land.
A slow relentless process.
Heartbroken, I am witness.
The sculpting of his face
The slowing of his speech
The weakening of his sharp,
The honing of his spirit
As the Beast lays bare the very
Essence of my beloved.
So he returns to earth, no sooner
His irrepressible vitality etched in our hearts forever.
This slow relentless process.
And yet, joy.
Of remembrance, of life, of love,
Robinette is survived by his two sons Patrick and Scott, his daughter-in-law Jennie, and grandsons Finn and Will Robinette. Vic’s extended family includes his sister-in-law Becky Gayman, Becky’s partner Peter and her daughters Jessica Power and Anna Hanisko as well as his sister-in-law Leslie Howland and her family: husband Tom, their daughter Laura Woliczko and their son Christopher Howland.