Passings: University Professor Emeritus Stuart G. Robbins

Stuart Robbins
Stuart Robbins

Professor Emeritus Stuart G. Robbins died on Tuesday, June 8 in Calgary, two years to the day after the death of his wife, Pat. He is predeceased by his son Kevin and leaves behind his son Steve (Donna); granddaughters Hayley and Chelsea; his brother, David (Linda); and sister, Stella, along with an extensive global network of family, friends and colleagues at York University.

Born March 11, 1939, in Bognor Regis, England, Prof. Robbins, or “Stu” as he preferred to be known, emigrated to Edmonton in 1964 after he procured a lectureship position at the University of Alberta in the Faculty of Physical Education, the beginning of what would become a brilliant academic career. While working full-time, Stu completed his master’s degree in education at Washington State University and his PhD at the University of Alberta. During this time, Stu became a fixture in the Edmonton community and was recognized for his indelible impact on both community and varsity sport. He was the founder and inaugural coach of the University of Alberta Golden Bears soccer team and led them to their first national title in 1972, a success that was followed by a silver medal in 1973, an outcome declared by Stu “the result of a botch-up.” Coach Stu, as he was fondly addressed, was a national-level diving coach and the first director of coaching for the Alberta Soccer Association, something he did in his “spare” time.

In 1974, Stu moved to York University where he remained until retirement in 2000. During this stage of his career, he was an avid crusader for the importance of sport and recreation in the development of young minds and contributed to the advancement of the Department of Physical Education as it evolved into one of the top kinesiology programs in the country. Upon moving from Edmonton, the Robbins family settled in Georgetown, Ont., where the family was well recognized in the community. In 1997, Stu was awarded a University Professorship by the University for his extraordinary and innovative leadership not only at York, but for his professional service to the external community.

“Stu was not only the Chair of Physical Education and Athletics twice (1981-86 and 1989-96), but he also led the department into its transition to the School of Kinesiology and Health Science. As the executive officer in the school, I worked closely with him for eight years and, ever since, we remained very close friends,” said Steve Dranitsarius, now retired from York University. “His area of expertise was physical activity and children, and he worked internationally to advance physical activity in educational curricula principally through the Canadian International Development Agency. He was the innovator who introduced to the world the smaller soccer balls and smaller soccer fields for young children. At York, he also served as associate dean of education, Chair of the University Senate and as a faculty member on the Board of Governors.”

In 2000, Pat and Stu returned to the west, retiring in Calgary to be closer to their cherished grandchildren, a move that provided the opportunity to be actively involved in their academic and personal growth, something that was extremely important to Stu until his final days. Importantly, Stu also stood as a trusted mentor and role model for his son Steve as he followed in his footsteps and embarked on his own academic career.

Stu received many accolades during his life, but of specific note are the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, Canada’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and induction into the University of Alberta Sports Wall of Fame (class of 2007) and York University’s Hall of Fame (2009).

Stu was an active member of the United Church community, where in Edmonton he was a founding member of Southminster United Church and at St. Thomas United Church in Calgary he was a trusted voice that provided encouragement and comfort to the community. Whether in academia or in the community, Stu held that “my style of leadership was to bring people together and facilitate people doing things better,” a motto that will continue in his absence. A celebration of life will be held in his honour at St. Thomas United Church at a future time, when restrictions allow for all to participate (Stu was not a “virtual” guy).

If friends or colleagues so desire, in lieu of flowers, memorial tributes may be made directly to the Calgary Humane Society, 4455 110th Avenue S.E., Calgary, Alta., T2C 2T7, or to the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation, RR#2, 264 Glenmorris Road East, St. George, Ont., N0E 1N0.

A tree will be planted in Stu’s memory at the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area in Calgary.