A long time ago, in a place not so far away, there lived a king named Max Robinson who was great and powerful. He was larger than life. He had many loyal subjects. His presence could be felt from the center of the capital to the lands of Montgomery, Prince George’s and even Alexandria. Sometimes it seemed as if there was nothing he could not do.
I called him “Dad.”
There’s nothing new in thinking of your parents as all-powerful when you’re very young. They can be the biggest influence a child will ever have; our first, most vivid memories are often shaped by them. And when parents divorce, as mine did, that can create an even bigger impact.
Moving with our mother Eleanor to the rural countryside of Amelia, Virginia, my sister Maureen, my brother Michael and I would visit Dad during summers, holidays and family events. As I said, it’s natural for children to think of their parents as all-powerful. Now, imagine how amazing it feels when your dad is on TV, anchoring the evening news with Gordon Peterson on Channel 9 back when it was known as WTOP instead of WUSA. Every time he smiled on camera, I was sure he could actually see me (Ok, keep in mind that I was under the age of seven at the time).
Even more amazing was how he was greeted by complete strangers when he would go out in public with me, Maureen and Michael. Passersby would continually give big, hearty waves and shout “Hey, Max!”
Dad would greet each person like an old friend, with an equally hearty “How ya doin?”
Agog, we would ask, “You know that person, Dad?”
He would respond, “Haven’t got a clue,” in a low voice and conspiratorial wink.
By 1978, he caught the eye of ABC News President Roone Arledge and soon became the first African American to co-anchor a nightly news broadcast with Peter Jennings and Frank Reynolds on ABC World News Tonight.
As is inevitable, with parents and children, I came to realize my father was not all-powerful; that he was all-too human, with all the foibles to match. He rocked the boat. He pointed out racism, even at ABC. Arledge had issues with him, to be sure, but he made enough of an impact that Arledge would later help create a primetime special hosted by ABC’s black journalists called “Black in America.”
Ten years after his first appearance on ABC, he passed away from complications due to AIDS. He was only 49 years old.
Max Robinson died on Dec. 20, 1988. Today marks the 30th anniversary of his passing. If he were still alive, he would be 79.
There were times as I grew older when my father and I didn’t see eye to eye, but I have always loved him and remained proud of what he achieved in the short time he spent on Earth.
Earlier this year, I was honored to join a distinguished panel at Lincoln Theatre in D.C., which featured some of my father’s former colleagues from Channel 9, which included Gordon Peterson, Bruce Johnson and Maureen Bunyan to pay tribute to the legacy of Max Robinson. We shared stories, remembered old times, some bad but mostly good.
So, in keeping with remembering the magic, Dad, for all of us here on planet Earth, good night.