The publishing industry paid tribute yesterday to Dick Robinson, the chairman, president, and CEO of Scholastic, who died unexpectedly on June 5 at age 84. The 85-minute YouTube live event, entitled, “A Tribute to Dick Robinson: A Life Celebrated in Stories,” was emceed by Scholastic senior v-p Billy DiMichele and featured approximately two dozen speakers sandwiched between photo and video montages of Robinson, many of the images featuring Robinson with various Scholastic authors, employees, even characters from books. During the first hour, there were 1,250 live viewers of the event, which was live-streamed from Scholastic’s headquarters in New York City, though some speakers beamed in from elsewhere.
The speakers, beginning with the actress Goldie Hawn, ranged from celebrities like former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former First Lady Laura Bush, to authors J.K. Rowling, Ruby Bridges, and Suzanne Collins, to former and current employees, from Scholastic’s new CEO, Peter Warwick, to Jerry Wilson, a warehouse employee for the past 39 years, who described Robinson as “a great man” whose “memory will live on.”
If there was a common theme to the eulogies, it was that Robinson was a gracious, warm, and generous man who seemed to know the names of all 10,000 Scholastic employees, treated his authors with respect, and spent every day of his adult life working to advance literacy for all children.
“He was a visionary,” Hawn said, kicking off an hour of eulogies. “But more importantly, to me, he was a walking ray of sunshine.”
“He was a kind, intelligent, and compassionate man,” Clinton said, “who gave his life to making literature exciting and accessible for young readers all around the world. Dick always believed that reading and access to books was a fundamental right, not a luxury. From Harry Potter to the Magic School Bus, he understood the transformative power of books and the need for every young person to be equally able to experience these adventures, to learn, to connect with each other along the way.”
Rowling remembered Robinson attending a party in New York City for her 25 years ago, before Harry Potter was released; that evening, Rowling read an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. She recalled Robinson calling her the next morning and telling her that he had been so intrigued by her reading that he’d subsequently read the novel for the first time “to find out what happened.” He told her, she said, “I think you’ve written a really amazing book.” She added, “That meant the world to me. He took the trouble to call a first-time author to tell her that he thought her book was amazing."
“Dick made literacy his life’s work. He grasped how the ability to read could change lives, and he set about guaranteeing that right for every child, one book at a time,” Collins said. “When it came to spreading literacy, Dick was the conductor; and the rest of us, we were members of the orchestra. A cellist or a bass drummer—every musician is important, but still only one player in the overall composition. He knew how to arrange those musicians and broadcast their eclectic voices around the globe.”
“He was proud of the people who worked for him and he created an atmosphere where the sense of family was very real,” Brian Selznick said. “All over the world children have stories to share,” Selznick added, “to live inside of, to dream upon, because of Dick Robinson. Even if they never knew his name, their names would have mattered to him. Generations of children have grown up being part of a family they might not known existed, because of Dick. We have relatives in almost every corner of the world and the river that connects us runs deep.”
The event's final speaker, actor Alec Baldwin, spoke of meeting Robinson only because they lived in the same apartment building. "This bright-eyed older gentleman" introduced himself, Baldwin said, "He said the word 'Scholastic' and muted the word 'Scholastic' like some people mute 'Harvard' or 'Juilliard.' He was humble in a way you rarely see anymore." Baldwin concluded by exclaiming, "How I envy all of you who have known this man for many years when my own friendship with him was just beginning. Dick was—is—a gentleman of the old school. Enormously successful, yes, but he was also humble and kind to me and to my family at the elevator and beyond."