February 22, 1890-October 5, 1978


DR. WILLIAM JACOB ROBBINS lived several lives: botanist, teacher, administrator, educator, valued advisor, and avid fisherman.2 A scientist most of his life, he earned his living as a teacher for twenty-eight years and an administrator for nearly fifty. Yet Robbins kept his separate lives apart so successfully, few who knew him in one role knew of his accomplishments and problems in the others.

A robust man about five-feet-eight inches tall and weighing 175 pounds in his prime, Robbins rarely missed a day of work. During the years he was director of the Garden he lived in a large house in Bronxville and—until he was seventy-three—maintained garden and grounds himself. A man of prodigious energy, he often slept only a few hours a night and in 1949 compained "that he was no longer capable of working more than fourteen to sixteen hours a day without some diversion."3

Since Robbins worked discreetly behind the scenes, his


A longer version of this essay appeared in the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club 108(Jan.-March 1981): 95-121.


David R. Goddard, past president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote: "It is my evaluation that Dr. Robbins played a larger part in the NRC and NAS than any other botanist in the last several decades," in letter to the editor of the Biographical Memoirs dated March 10, 1982.


[Mrs. Henry] Steeger, "Our Director," Garden 2(September 1949).

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