Stanford University Home

Stanford News Archive

Stanford Report, May 13, 1998

Profile of Jasper's Leonard Robinson: 5/13/98

Leonard Robinson: ‘I have been one lucky man’


His hands are rough from work and his straw hat has seen better days.

"It's air-conditioned," Leonard Robinson says as he peeks through a hole in the brim. Robinson takes a break from his work on a truck engine. "What do you want to talk to me for?" he asks. "I'm just the guy who does the work around here."

That's the truth.

As Monika Björkman, program coordinator of the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, puts it, "Leonard is the person who knows how every piece of machinery here runs and where all the pipes are buried. There are a lot of people with doctorates around here. Leonard didn't earn a doctorate in a college classroom but he's got a lot of knowledge."

Robinson came to live at Jasper Ridge in 1970 as a single father of five kids. For most of the intervening years, he's worked as maintenance and grounds person at both Jasper Ridge and the nearby Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Although retired, he still keeps things running at Jasper Ridge.

Robinson is a soft-spoken man who ran away from home at age 15, taught himself blues guitar and auto mechanics and carpentry trades, married and had three boys and two girls, all in short order. When his wife left him in the late 1960s, the children were age 14 to six months. He found work, housing and a safe place to raise the family at Jasper Ridge.

"I realized it was my responsibility to do the best for those kids as I could. I brought them into the world. We learned to rely on one another. My main thing was to teach them responsibility and the value of education. They're all college educated. I sleep better knowing they have the education I never had," says Robinson, now 67.

Scores of Stanford students also have benefited from this same kind of advice as they've encountered Robinson on the ridge. Although he is shy, he has familiarized himself with most of the researchers and with their work. "Stay in school," he tells students.

"Get your degree. Then get another one. You can't put a price tag on education." The students in turn have learned that if they're lucky and persistent, Robinson might share with them some of the observations he's garnered about bird, animal and plant behavior during 28 years on the ridge.

"The country has always been my style," says Robinson. "Any time you can get away from all the animals in this world ­ I mean the human animals ­ you're lucky. I have been one lucky man."