Jack Robinson, former director of the Austin parks department, died Sunday of medical conditions related to old age. He was 82.|
Robinson's life was enmeshed in the parks system, here and later in Dallas, where he also served as parks director.
His father, Buster Robinson, was in charge of Zilker Park and raised his children in the caretaker's cottage near Barton Springs. Later, Jack Robinson took the same job as park manager and returned with his young family to live there.
"He loved everything to grow," his son, Michael Robinson, said. "He loved to nurture. It wasn't just plants, it was people. He loved to cultivate people. He wanted to leave an impression that would last."
The former parks head was known for getting involved in the lives of department employees and staying in touch. Robinson worked with Lady Bird Johnson to create what became the Butler Hike and Bike Trail and helped oversee the desegregation of city parks in 1963.
The Robinsons first moved into the tiny stone cottage near Barton Springs in 1935.
"There were five of us children in a two-bedroom house, " Robinson said in 2012. "It was really quite simple: There was a little office area on the northwest side of the house that my two older brothers took as a bedroom. My two sisters were in a bedroom on the east side of the house, and my parents were in a bedroom on the west side of the house. I slept wherever it was convenient. I was the youngest."
He met his wife, Jan Hatley Robinson, while she worked as a Barton Springs locker girl and he was employed as a lifeguard. A fifth-generation Texan, the Austin native graduated from Austin High School in 1949 earned a degree in zoology from the University of Texas. After college, he joined the U.S. Navy and served on the U.S.S. Lyman K. Swenson during the Korean War.
Robinson became Zilker Park manager in 1964 and became department head, following parks master planner Beverly Sheffield, in 1973. He took the Dallas job in 1977 and retired in 1984.
"He was the inspiration for the discovery of untold stories of park history that we are still uncovering and trying to share with the public," said park architectural historian Kim McKnight. "He was a remarkable man and lived in a remarkable time."
Robinson is survived by one brother, B.J. Robinson, his wife and his sons - Michael, Greg and Jeff - as well as their wives and families.
To the end, Robinson served as a witness to the cycles of nature - including Central Texas' droughts and floods - and the vast changes to the city's heavily used parks system.
"One day when I was park manager, we had a beautiful Sunday, " Robinson had recalled about Barton Springs Pool. "We had that park full of people. The hill on the other side of the pool was covered with blankets. All the sudden, water started coming over the upper dam. We had to hustle around to get people across the lower dam and back over to the bathhouse before the water got too high to pass."
The Robinsons moved back to Austin when he retired.
"He loved this city and loved the people in it," his son Michael said. "He had to come back home."
Memorial services are pending.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Apr. 27 to Apr. 29, 2014