Floyd Robinson, who has died in his 93rd year, was a brilliant man, a gentle soul, a devoted husband and father, and a generous benefactor. He had an unshakeable optimism about human potential and for more than half a century was committed to the growth and development of human beings. Through his professional life as a teacher, professor of education, curriculum developer, author and educational psychologist, and through his volunteer work, he made a significant contribution to public education and human development in Canada.
The son of John and Marjorie (née Roehl) Robinson, he was born and raised in Humberstone, Ontario along with his brothers Ross, Leo and Paul. The siblings also had a half-brother, Don Roehl, of Katrine, Ontario. Floyd fondly recalled his boyhood, painting a picture of growing up in post-depression smalltown Southern Ontario: He and his chums playing on the street under the watchful eye of Tubby, the neighbourhood dog; nickel bags of exotically-named sweets; radio programs such as ‘The Shadow’ and ‘Ma Perkins’; Halloween night mischief; and one hot Saturday when a Coca Cola promotional truck cruised through the neighbourhood distributing icy-cold bottles of the novel beverage. From his bedroom window on Neff Street he had a full-on view of a magnificent maple tree, which marked the changing seasons throughout his youth. This tree remained imprinted in his lifelong memory as the image of the ideal maple.
Summer holidays were spent camping on Doe Lake in Katrine, and in 1955 it was here, to Lawton's Cove, that he brought his bride, hometown sweetheart Lucy (née Ruggiero) for their honeymoon. The love of his life, Lucy proved to be an invaluable caregiver, helpmate and sounding-board as Floyd built a distinguished career in education.
Following his university graduation Floyd began his career in Cannington, Ontario as a high school mathematics and physics teacher. After completing his doctorate in educational psychology in 1959, he became an advocate for applied research in education and was, in succession, the Research Director of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and the first Director of the Canadian Council for Research in Education.
In 1965 he was recruited to join the newly-created Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE), as Professor and founding Head of the Department of Applied Psychology. After establishing the faculty, he elected in 1968 to work in OISE's field centres, as he believed this setting offered the best chance of improving education. For more than two decades he worked closely with practitioners to help them apply research results and theoretical concepts to upgrade and achieve their goals; it was part of his professional code that he always volunteered to be the first to teach any proposed new intervention in a classroom. During the latter part of his OISE career he took major responsibility for developing what is now a well-recognised model for curriculum development. In the words of a colleague, “He was an incredible mentor to many and was known for his unwavering support of his students and colleagues and his level of commitment to the personal and professional growth of his students.”
In 1983 he was the recipient of The Colonel Watson Award from the Ontario Association for Curriculum Development, which stated, "Dr Robinson merits not only recognition, but gratitude, for the extensive influence he has had on other academics, curriculum leaders, curriculum innovators, Ministry personnel, teachers, and most significantly, the students in the classroom."
After his formal retirement in 1991, Floyd freely shared his expertise as a volunteer consultant to health, education, adult literacy and a variety of other social agencies, teaching them how to use curriculum design concepts to increase the impact of their services. He formed and led a collective called the Human Development and Empowerment Group, a team of professionals that worked with the aforementioned agencies to help them more effectively nurture their clients.
He never gave up on his mission to improve public education and was working on a strategy for improving literacy throughout the public school system when he died.
In his personal life, he was an exemplary father and grandfather to his four children, Michael, Donna, Marjorie and Andrea, and five grandchildren. He developed their minds, shared the things he valued with them, and encouraged them, often by example, to let their actions be guided by principles. He was a tower of support for his family for all their lives, always generous with his time, insight and resources. He coached his children with great success through all their scholastic and athletic endeavours, and took great interest in their professional work and personal projects into their adulthood. His engagement of life took in a love of music, animals, nature, sports, poetry and sentimental movies, and he shared all of these things with them.
He had a profound enjoyment of music, particularly opera, and would sit entranced in front of the record player oblivious to everything else, almost daring anyone to make a sound! One of the greatest dilemmas of his life was having to choose between a last night of cramming for his final university exam, and attending a live performance of the farewell tour of Beniamino Gigli, one of his favourite tenors, after Lucy had obtained a pair of last-minute free tickets. Gigli won!
When his children were young he brought the family to live in a wonderful remote place in Strong Township, where their enduring love of nature and wild places stemmed from interaction with all its living elements: the mature trees and the ones they planted together, the garden vegetables and the wild berries and sour green apples they harvested, the stranded tadpoles they rescued, the piles of autumn leaves they scuffled through, the trilliums they transplanted, the forest trails and cliffs, ponds and streams, and the chorus of frogs and crickets on summer nights.
His sense of fun enlivened even the most routine events: tapping on his wine glass to start them all off on an after-dinner “musical” improvisation; driving fast over the hills on ‘Rollercoaster’ Road; being the first to break into song on car journeys, after which they would all be trying to come up with new rhymes to describe what was going on in The Quartermaster’s Store; and instigating horseshoe, crokinole, tobogganing and road hockey contests. And even into his nineties, his skill at composing riddles from the Easter Bunny was second to none.
He led the family on many outdoor adventures that would become cherished memories, and which they came to accept as the norm. Indeed, later on in life they were surprised to discover that most of their contemporaries had never experienced such joys as camping overnight in a marsh beside a remote river, trying to keep warm by stealing the heat of the family dog; sneaking out of the house on a misty dawn to try to catch a glimpse of a moose; finding their way home through a dark forest by following a dog’s white bum; going for an annual four-hour ‘walk around the block’, or having a New Year's Eve midnight wiener roast at 40 below.
And even though his mind was usually occupied with higher matters, he always took the trouble to perform little acts of kindness – such as walking out to the road with his kids to wait for the school bus, starting their cars on freezing winter mornings, and picking posies of wildflowers or wild strawberries for favoured ladies.
Floyd and Lucy remained together in their Strong Township home until her death in 2021. He recalled that from their very first date, he couldn’t imagine his life without her in it, and he thought about and spoke with her every day for the remainder of his life. Although he became increasingly frail, Floyd was able to remain in their home, thanks in large part to the steadfast hand of his personal support worker, Carol-Ann. For her loyalty, loving care and relentless advocacy, his family will be forever grateful.
In accordance with Floyd’s wishes there will be no visitation or formal funeral, even though he was fond of a good farewell, and as an avid reader of Shakespeare, he always seemed able to recall and quote an apt passage for such significant moments. Indeed, if he could speak to us at right now he might say:
“Be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended…
We are such stuff as dreams are made on,
And our little life is rounded with a sleep.”
Good night, dear Floyd, And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.