Ski community mourns death of Paul Robbins
February 26, 2008
The international ski-racing community was stunned to learn of the death Saturday of beloved journalist Paul Robbins at his home in Vermont. He was 68.
Robbins was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. Ski Team, especially Nordic skiing, and for his ability to bring a historical perspective to personalized stories on practically any skiing-related subject. His rapid-fire writing style, typically peppered with semi-colons and dashes, was familiar to sports editors around the country.
Witty and articulate, Robbins was almost as comfortable in front of the camera as at the keyboard. He provided the color commentary on cross-country skiing for the networks at numerous Olympic Winter Games including Salt Lake City and Calgary.
A native of New Jersey and an alumnus of Holy Cross, Robbins served in the military as an information officer in Korea in the early 1960s. Later, he joined the staff of United Press International and moved up to become chief of its New England bureau.
By the early 1980s, Robbins had begun covering ski racing for the U.S. Ski Team, Ski Racing magazine and numerous other publications. In 1986-87 he worked in Park City as a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s public-relations staff when the team offices were in the Treasure Mountain Inn at the top of Main Street. In 1988 he became the U.S. Ski Team’s full-time correspondent, reporting on major competitions in North America and Europe and writing many of the profiles in the team’s media guide. In addition to his work for the team, he continued to write many other publications including The Park Record. His last story, on Picabo Street passing the World Cup downhill torch to Lindsey Vonn, and appeared in the paper on Feb. 23, the day he died.
Although his home was in Vermont, he continued to visit Utah often and was a fixture in the press room at numerous local World Cup events.
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Robbins was generous and outgoing and never at a loss for words. In his work and his travels, he met many people and made many friends and, in spite of his frantic schedule, managed to stay in touch. Once in a while the phone would ring and there’d be a guy with a thick pseudo-French accent rattling on about something or other. It would be Paul. More often, he’d forward his favorite Internet joke or video to the people on his e-mail friends list.
It was a long list.
As news of Robbins’ death spread throughout the ski-racing community, tributes poured in. By Tuesday morning, more than 70 had been posted on the personal Web site of Tom Kelly, the U.S. Ski Team’s vice president of communications. You can read the comments by going to http://www.tomandcarole.com/?p=104
"Once part of Paul’s people, no one was allowed to escape," wrote long-time ski journalist Hank McKee. "The e-mail onslaught of daily jokes was one way to touch base, and the sometimes cryptic notes in typed shorthand. And there would also be the phone calls, checking in to make sure everything was all right.
"I don’t know anyone who cared, really cared about more people than Paul Robbins," McKee said. "He was genuine, sincere in his off-handed way, a rock in his work, and as compassionate a soul as one could hope to find."
"I picture him entering rooms with his ubiquitous tam at just the right tilt, a smile on his face and pep in his stride and always a valuable tidbit or two on the events of the day," added television commentator Tim Ryan. "Conversation was easy with Paul he began and ended it!"
John Dakin, who was a member of the U.S. Ski Team’s public-relations staff in the 1980s, added these thoughts: "Since the Park City days, Paul has remained a good friend and he has been one of my constant sounding boards for things both good and bad, just as he has been there for all of his many friends around the world. If you were a friend of Paul’s you were immediately accepted, no matter what country or circumstance you found yourself in.
"He was a wealth of information that can never be replaced, both on skiing and on life and I will still search for him in every press center I step into. He will be there of course, looking over someone’s shoulder and whispering in their ear "
Robbins’ last e-mail joke went out early Saturday afternoon, shortly before he died.
"I checked my inbox last night after Nate Vinton called me with the news," said Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden. "Sure enough, there were three silly emails from Paul that I hadn’t gotten around to deleting yet.
"Those emails are going nowhere now."