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Goodbye Robin

robinMy dear friend, Watawa Life blogger Robin Kelsey, died on July 2, 2013 at the age of 64. Robin was a photographer, a writer, a biker, an introvert, a lover of cats and a kind and gentle spirit. He was also one of my favourite people in the whole world.

I met Robin in 2006, when he wrote to tell me he was a secret fan of my blog. We visited each other and went out for pho or breakfast once in awhile, but our friendship was mostly online. The Internet is the perfect medium for introverts: we can socialize and be alone at the same time. When Robin retired and moved to Peterborough last year, he told me “I’m just a keyboard away, Zoom.”

Robin broke his ankle last week. He had surgery and was back home trying to master crutches. I asked if it was getting any easier and he said no, not really, plus he was short of breath now too. He said the painkillers were working though.

You don’t think about these things much, except in retrospect after your friend has died. Then all those last conversations take on so much meaning.

His final blog post is called, perhaps prophetically, Hiatus.

A couple of days ago I was walking and daydreaming in that stream-of-consciousness sort of way where one thought leads to another and you follow each one down its own little rabbit hole and who knows where you’ll end up. Anyway, one of those random thoughts was that Robin might die one day and I might never see him again. It was just a fleeting thought, but then he died the next day and now I will never see him again and I am flattened by that fact.

invisibleBut you know what they say, it’s better to have loved and lost. Robin marched to the beat of his own heart. He was honest and gentle and sensitive. He was smart and witty, and humble and kind. He was quirky and stubborn, a little eccentric, reclusive and sometimes lonely. He knew himself well and accepted himself for who he was, warts and all, but I think he struggled to keep his loneliness and his introversion in some kind of balance to avoid getting overwhelmed by either. And these are the things that made Robin Robin.

Thoughts and memories have been randomly floating to the surface ever since I heard the news:

Writing: Robin didn’t consider himself a writer because he said writers are driven to write, and he wasn’t. Nevertheless, he won first prize in The Toronto Star’s short story contest many years ago. He let me read his story and it was excellent. It was about a boy who found his mother’s secret stash of chocolate, and ate it. His writing style was simple, honest and direct. He could accomplish a lot with very few words.

The burlap people are back!

The burlap people are back!

Pictures: Robin was a wonderfully talented photographer, and I loved how clever and witty some of his pictures were.

One year on his birthday I gave him a gift certificate for Blurb, so he could create a coffee table book of his favourite photographs. He never used it. But now that he’s gone, I think we should do it in his memory. I’d love to have a book of his photographs. (I know we still have his website, but it’ll disappear when the annual fees aren’t paid.)

Cats: Robin and I got our cats – Duncan and Clint Eastwood – the same day. We talked each other into getting cats, and he was the one who convinced me that Duncan was the right one for me because he was the most bloggable cat at the Humane Society. Both of our cats went on to accomplish great things in life. Duncan was Pet of the Month and a character in a novel, and Clint Eastwood became a toilet-trained Youtube sensation.

Friends: Robin was a recluse, definitely, but he loved a handful of people with all his heart. He spoke with great affection and humour about the people he loved. He had friends from way back in his honest-to-goodness hippie days when he ran a sandwich joint called Paradise Lunch in Bancroft, and lived on a sort-of commune in Maynooth, I think.

Honesty: He believed in the truth, even when it didn’t show him to advantage. He didn’t say things he didn’t mean. You could take him at his word.

Retirement: It didn’t last long. We recently had a conversation about the projects he was working on: “oh photography, trying to figure out what’s next in that. Trying to learn to do macros. Making kefir and beer. the ongoing saga of Clint’s toilet-training. and so on.” On the subject of boredom: “it’s there though, an abyss you could fall into.”

It’s hard to believe that he’s never going to take his next turn in Scrabble. It’s hard to accept that he’s gone forever.

My heart goes out to Judy, Patti, Jake, John and all who knew and loved him.

Goodbye, Robin.


66 comments to Goodbye, Robin

  • So sorry to hear about your friend, Zoom – he sounds like a really wonderful person who would appreciate all of the kind things you just wrote about him. xoxo

    • Thanks Roro. Someone said on Facebook today “Robin will be missed more, and by more people, than he would ever believe.” I think that’s true. He was a humble man, and he would have been touched to know how much we all loved him.

  • Oh my goodness. Thanks so much for passing on the news, Zoom. I’ve been a regular follower and commenter on his blog for years – I loved his shots of everyday Ottawa (and always secretly dreamed I’d find myself in one of his on-the-street candids – it would have been such a thrill!). I had no idea he could write, as well. I will really, really miss him.

    I would definitely be in on the coffee table book. In fact, I have several of his shots of “around Ottawa” bookmarked for a future calendar I was planning on pulling together. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do to actually make this project happen. I’d be more than happy to put in some hours pulling things together.

    • Thanks Lynn! I was thinking about it kind of in the abstract, but when you offered to help I realized maybe we could actually make this book a reality. GC says he’ll help too. I’ll give them a bit of time and then ask his family if they would be comfortable with the idea.

  • grace

    I loved Robin’s photos and had always hoped that I could meet him sometime in person to tell him so. I know you will miss your friend Zoom. I’m so sorry.

  • I liked Robin so much. I got to sit with him at a few blogger breakfasts and it was always good to run into him in Centretown. I often think of a short conversation we had at one of the breakfasts when he asked me if I planned on having kids. I said I wasn’t sure. He nodded thoughtfully and said, “I recommend it.” It wasn’t an endorsement I took lightly. I’ll miss his posts and photographs.

    • Aww, that’s sweet that he endorsed parenthood. Did you know Robin graduated from university the same year his son Jake graduated from high school?

  • Laura

    This news is devastating. I met Robin through blogging because I am a huge fan and then became friends on line. He was so talented, so witty and a kind soul. My heart is sad…what a loss.

    • Hi Laura – I wonder where all that talent and wit and soul went when his heart stopped beating. It seems inconceivable that it just ceased to exist….

  • john kelsey

    Thank you Zoom for this lovely post. Robin was my only brother and I’m still reeling. But I’m here in Peterboro with his son Jake and my son Morgan, and granddaughter Jill, and somehow Robin is present with us, through the many lives he so gently touched.

    • My heart goes out to you, John, and to the rest of your family. Especially Jake. I feel Robin’s still hovering nearby, held aloft by all our love and sadness.

  • Thanks for passing on word and for the tribute.

  • Jennie

    Thank you for passing along this sad news. I was very much appreciating Peterborough through his photographs and loving his insights into a city I have never visited.

    • I always thought his pictures transcended geography, but I especially loved the ones of places and things I recognized. (I cried when we drove past The Man With Two Hats yesterday – I always think of Robin when I see that sculpture, since he took so many pictures of it over the years. That, and ducks.)

      • Lucy

        Yes, I liked his Man with Two Hats pics as well. I used to live up the street on Lebreton St and would walk down to Dow’s Lake often with my son and my mom (who is also now departed). One of my son’s first multi-word sentences was “Man two hats”. Whenever we go to Dow’s Lake still, we always go over to say hi to the Man with Two Hats. I have a series of photos of my son and myself posing with the Man with Two Hats over the years. So whenever I saw that Robin had posted a new Man with Two hats pic I would call him to come and look at it! His favourite was one that Robin took looking directly up at him which my son said looked like it was upside down. :-)

        I never met Robin but I enjoyed his photos and his wit and sense of humour. My condolences to you for the loss of your friend.

        My condolences to you and your family, John, for the loss of your brother, father, uncle.

        • I actually made a point of going and finding that photo and trying to see it from your son’s perspective – it took me a few minutes, but suddenly it clicked and the M2H was upside down!

  • Thanks for a lovely tribute. I met him over the years at blogging things too and loved seeing his pictures. Sad there won’t be more :(

    • Thank you Jamine. For a recluse, he did manage to meet a lot of bloggers. I know it wasn’t always easy for him, but I think he pushed himself sometimes because he felt he almost kind of knew people through their blogs.

  • What a wonderful man. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your friend, my condolences to his family and friends.

  • Judy Spencer

    Oh Zoom, how beautifully and eloquently said, this tribute to Robin. He always felt a strong connection with you and I feel for your pain. I wish that he could have known, in his life, how esteemed he was in so many hearts.

    • Robin was so humble and modest, I’m sure he would have been astonished that so many people thought so highly of him and will miss him. I wish he could have known. My thoughts and feelings have never been far from you these last few days Judy. xox

  • Janet

    Thank you, lovely stranger, for speaking so well about my old friend Robin. I will miss him greatly, but I doubt he knew how much.
    (Maybe next time, Robin.)

  • future landfill

    This is a sad occasion for a lot of people. I never met the man but looked in on his blog frequently. I wasn’t always keen on his photo processing treatment but I loved his eye and his droll captions and comments.

    It’s no great surprise that my partner Peggy knew him from the early Killaloe Craft Fair days and that we’re well-acquainted with his ex-partner Joyce(Jake’s mom). As our old buddy Chopper McKinnon used to say, “There’s only five hundred people in the world.” I guess with the two of them gone now we’re down to 498.

    • Future Landfill, Robin asked me about a week or so ago if I knew who you were. It’s funny that there were all these connections, like a single degree of separation, in addition to the geographic proximity and Gilmour Street.

  • Sad to hear about Robin’s passing. Missed his daily photos of Ottawa since he moved away. Thanks for posting this zoom.

  • Nat

    Oh zoom,

    I am so so so sorry for your loss.

  • Joanna

    Zoom, thank you for the tribute.
    Robin was such an interesting, talented and complex person.
    I would love to have a book of Robin’s pictures. How may I help to make this happen?

    • Joanna, that’s another fitting adjective for Robin: complex. He was, but he made complexity look easy. :) I also liked what you wrote on facebook, about finding it difficult to believe you were talking about him in the past tense. I felt the same way…

      I’ll happily add you to the list of people who want to help create Robin’s photo book. I’ll be in touch.

  • I’m sorry for your loss, Zoom. And so happy that you and he got to be friends, enriching each other’s lives.

  • Gornk

    This is very sad news, Zoom. I didn’t know you were so close to him. I’m sorry for your loss. Robin had a great eye and make excellent photographs. He really did make it look easy. He will be missed by many.

    • Hey Gronk, thanks for the comment. He did have a great eye. I wonder if that’s something that a person has to be born with, or can it be cultivated?

  • John Kelsey

    Thank you Zoom. It is wonderful to see how my brother touched people with his photos and his self

  • Sharon Hanna

    Hi….I knew Robin from Burnaby North high school….kindred spirits we were even then; we had just become reacquainted after not seeing each other for all that time, both of us 64. He had “liked” The book of kale (I wrote it) on Facebook somehow – or maybe I looked him up, as I knew that our mutual friend Wendy Newman and he were playing lexulous scrabble. His sudden passing has made me so sad – the irony of us just beginning to communicate, and he was sharing photos for us to use in he next book (of bees). The last time we communicated was Saturday night when he said the painkillers had kicked in….wish he’d told me about the shortness of breath. What will happen to his cat? And all the trouble he went to toilet train him….my heart aches for his family and Clint East wood too, and for my loss of Robin so soon after finding him.

    • Hi Sharon, I’m sorry for your loss. Judy is taking care of Clint Eastwood, so he’s in excellent hands. I’m sure they’re comforting each other. Robin’s bee pictures are extraordinary.

  • Stephane

    This is wonderfully written and every adjective you used to describe Robin I would use myself to describe him (if only I could think of the words). I worked with Robin for many years and he was a great person. I loved to hear some of the stories about his life that he told me, never extravagant, not often with a lot of details, but little bits here and there over the years. With everyone I was amazed. From how he ended up, almost by chance it seemed, living in Ontario (coming from BC if I remember), to running a small restaurant, to living in a hippie commune, to being a woodworker at some point before he was a technical writer (that’s what he did where I work), to his son working at RIM, to his blog. I looked forward to seeing his pictures on Facebook and on his blog on a daily basis. My sincere condolences to you and all his friends and family.

    • Stephane, that’s exactly how he was! I love your description of his stories. Never extravagant, not a lot of detail, but little bits here and there. Little glimpses into his past. He always kept us wanting more.

      I learned more about him at the memorial in Maynooth…for example, he used to play banjo in a band. His banjo was there, along with his handmade wooden banjo case. He hadn’t played it in years, but he kept it. And there was a banner hanging in the hotel, commemorating Maynooth’s 150th anniversary, and Robin’s picture was on it. Hippie Robin!

      • Stephane

        I’ve seen pictures that he posted on Facebook of him in a band. One was an old newspaper clipping where he was holding a guitar (a bass guitar I think). I never asked him about it. A few years ago he found out I liked old country music and a few days later he gave me a CD on which he had copied a lot of old country songs. On it he wrote something like “The 500 greatest country songs” or something like that. I have it at home, but we just moved so it’s still in a box somewhere.

  • Oh, this is a hit. I’m so sorry to hear about Robin’s death. This is a really beautiful tribute. My condolences to you on the loss of a special friend.

  • Chris

    This is so, so sad. Robin was my favourite Scrabble partner and we are in the middle of a game. He was always there to ask me how my day was or to comment on a picture or to exchange sarcasm with. Some people you think will just be there forever….but it isn’t so. Goodbye Robin.

    • I loved playing Scrabble with him too. He was a shrewd opponent, very strategic and competitive. You could never leave anything open, because he’d seize and maximize every opportunity. He played 18,886 games, and averaged more than one bingo per game! The grand poobah of the lexulous board!

  • Laurie Gough

    Very saddened to hear. I was friends with Robin back in the old Maynooth/Bancroft days when he ran the Paradise Cafe and then when he moved the ‘speakeasy open mike’ nights to his house in Bancroft. The last time I saw him was not long ago in Ottawa when he was photographing an arts fair. He was always so fun and interesting and philosophical. You’ve left the world too soon, Robin!

    • Definitely too soon. I wish I’d known him back then in his hippie days, though I imagine he was always a hippie at heart. There were people who jumped on the hippie bandwagon for awhile in the 60s, and then there were the REAL hippies like Robin.

      So he ran a speakeasy out of his house? I don’t think I knew that.

  • Patti

    I still find it hard to write about Robin yet.Zoom you have brought me such heart’s ease by making this beautiful and necessary space to speak of him, and by articulating his Robin-ness. I want to share this story, of a moment I had yesterday when I found myself alone, running an errand at a small art gallery before leaving Peterborough back to the green solace of my cabin and Herschel, where Robin and I lived together, once upon a time. Judy, the woman who brought Robin such loving care and was his heart’s delight in the last years of his life, was coming to Maynooth with me. I know Robin would be glad that we have been caring for one another and for Clint Eastwood too.

    I walked into the gallery right into a space filled with giant interactive scrabble boards. On the wall was the show’s title: Wordplay With Friends.
    I was taken through a passageway where a poster in big letters said ZOOM. I stopped still. I saw that it was advertising a photography workshop.
    Finally, we were in another tiny gallery full of life-sized figures of women posed against the walls with the artist’s name in big letters- Judy, was her name.
    So yeah.
    Wordplay With Friends.

    Oh and we here in Maynooth will be gathering at the Arlington Hotel tomorrow night (Saturday) around 8 o clock to be together and to remember Robin. Please, if you can make it, you would be very welcome. There will likely even be some darn cheap rooms still available if needed. I am pretty sure Sarah Decarlo ( a fellow land collective member) will play Robin’s banjo.
    Did you know he played the banjo?
    love love and love

    • What a wonderful story Patti – thank you so much for sharing it. I love it! We will be in maynooth tonight to help celebrate robin’s life. I figure if his spirit is going to be anywhere, it’ll be there and I wouldn’t want to miss it. I’m looking forward to finally meeting you in person, after these years of knowing each other through robin.

      Could you please save me a room? Thanks!

  • Peter Benner

    I only met Robin in person a few times in the Maynooth area….however we re-connected through Facebook. I enjoyed reading his blogs and urban-based fotos. I used to write….now I sell….I observe…and crank out Facebook one liners… seems Robin had more of an attention span than I do now….and I appreciated that in him. Bless.

    • Robin had such a clever sense of humour. He never used extra words…in writing, in conversation, in humour. His one-liners cracked me up.

  • Ruth Campbell

    What an insight to the life of Robin. Thank You Zoom! Although we were cousins, regretfully we never got the opportunity to get to know one another as cousins should. The last time I saw him we were kids playing in the creek on the farm at Hardisty, Alberta. So long ago! From your words I realize he was grew to be an interesting, intriguing personality that a conversation with would have led to many different lines of thought that one hadn’t ever considered.You mentioned he marched to the beat of his own heart; I’m sure that’s what made him the person he was! Cherish your friendship and memories! He will remain in our hearts!

  • Donna Levine

    My name is Donna, and I live in New York. I have never met or spoken to Robin on the phone, but we always had an ongoing game of Lexulous (still in one). We have played for several years.
    Many say that Robin was a quiet man, however he spoke to me through our games. I am an extrovert, I always asked questions about his personal life, and he told me so many stories, as I told him about my life and family.
    We had created a nice friendship, and I am so saddened by all this. He told me of his accident, his surgery. I asked if I should mail him food or movies. He said, No, I have plenty of food, and Judy will help me.
    But I still don’t know how he died. I played with him the night before.
    Even though I didn’t know Robin Kelsey, I did know Robin Kelsey.
    He has touched my life!
    Donna Levine

    • Chris

      I, like you Donna, have had an online friendship with Robin over the past few years which started with Scrabulous and then Lexulous. We are also in the middle of a game. We always had a game or two going. We also had many chats (sometimes late at night) about our lives and I considered Robin to be a real friend, even if we never met in person. It could have happened. I live in Ottawa and we did talk about meeting now and then at a Bloggers’ breakfast. We never did get around to it. Now I feel such regret that we didn’t.

  • John Kelsey

    Hi Donna
    I’m Robin’s brother, I’d like to chat with you, please send me an email or friend me on Facebook where I am easy to find, I live in Lancaster PA, and if you know what Robin looked like, I look like that too.

  • Janice sanders

    Robin was one of my 1st Lexulous games, he had 10,000 games and I was a new raw player. We chatted about our lives and argued he ways of he world. One night of nonstop gaming I shared my life story with him. He had asked, and when I finished he told me he was honored. I last chatted when he told me about his ankle, and I shared some medical problems. He was dismayed and said I must seek out a doctor. I did and just noticed he hadn’t played in several days and went to his page. I will miss Locksley, he was a kind, caring person, and my heart breaks for all. Thank you for the tribute

  • Tom Sawyer

    Was it Robin’s short story that featured a character known for “snooping” through his mother’s bedroom drawers, and a lifelong fascination for doing so right into his adult years?

  • Judy Spencer

    If Robin could read all these comments, he would just say “Aaw Shucks”

  • Orleen MacLulich (nee Martin)

    To Robin’s Family and Friends;

    Such sad news for an old and prodigal friend to hear. Robin and I go back some 50 years. He was a first love of mine. We met through the Young New Democrats (NDP Youth) and then ended up in high school together at Burnaby North. I was always in awe of his intelligence, his wit, his “crap detecting abiities” and his gentleness! He was on the cutting edge of the ballooning 60s folk music scene and drew me in!

    He was the high school “brain” , on North’s “Reach for the Top” team in his corduroy jacket and horn rimmed glasses, yet he never really bought in to the competitive mainstream. A friend remembers him refusing to stand and recite the Lord’s Prayer with the rest of the class. Principled, brave and admired by the “closet rebels” in the high school crowd.

    I float back to a memory of sitting in his attic room in his house on Capitol Hill and saying our good-byes before he left for Toronto. He was so ready to break out of the confines of middle class, suburban Burnaby. He was headed for Toronto the Good and I was destined for radical SFU. We kept in touch for a year or so and then our lives diverged.

    Years later I would run into him at the Mariposa Folk Festival, post Toronto Island years, when I was back in Toronto visiting friends. Turns out the friends I was with knew Robin when he was living close to them in downtown Toronto in the “hippie heydays”. Just another small world story about how we dance in and out and around each others lives. By that time Robin was living in Bancroft and running the Paradise Lunch.

    More years go by and my sister-in-law and brother-in-law, who made their living selling brooms and woven goods at the big Ontario Crafts Fairs, connect the dots between Robin and I. They met Robin at one of the fairs, maybe in Ottawa, selling his woodworking wares. They purchase a wooden cloud mirror from Robin and send it to me in Victoria for my daughter Robin.

    The years continue to drift and the new age of technology and Facebook pull me into their “web”. A year or so ago who should get in touch but Robin. We traded some life history and “photography chat” as my new partner is a a photo buff! We hadn’t chatted recently as I am not a true Facebook devotee, blogger, gamer or twitterer. Now with this news regrets flood over me!

    A shock, a life cut far too short, family and friends left with a huge hole in their lives. I’ve been down the road of loosiing one’s life partner suddenly and unexpectedly, so the journey Robin’s family faces has resonance for me. Cry, hug each other and do your remembering out loud! It feeds and heals the hurting soul! Hope Robin isn’t too overcome with this emoting and gushing. If memory serves me right this kind of public display wouldn’t be within his comfort zone and would even maybe be subject to close scrutiny, sprinkled with sarcasm on his part! Facts are he touched our lives and his leave taking has thrown us all!

  • Sharon Hanna

    HI Orleen – I am the former Sharon Ozol. Loved reading this. I never knew him as well as you did but we had just reconnected via Wendy Newman who was playing Lexulous scrabble with him. We are going to use some of his photos in a new book…..they are bee photos. I’m good friends with Susan Askew (Pook) so you can always reach me via her, though she’s leaving right now for Saturna….

  • John Kelsey

    HI Orleen thanks for your post.