Bruce Robinson: The Florida Bar’s Cincinnatus
A Marine combat veteran with decades of Bar involvement will step down from board service in June
In the 1960s, Board of Governors member Bruce Robinson was standout at Florida State University, with memberships in the Student Senate, Gold Key, and the Omicron Delta Kappa honors societies all pointing to a bright future.
But the still-raging Vietnam War brought him to a crossroads. When family friends back in Lake City found him a prized slot with the National Guard, Robinson opted instead for the U.S. Marine Corps.
“You understand, I was 22 years old and probably had more testosterone than brains,” Robinson jokes. “I figured, by God, if I’ve got to go, I might as well go first class.”
No one familiar with his love of classics and history, or his core principles, would be surprised.
“I believe in the ideals of Cincinnatus,” said Robinson, who is retiring from the Bar’s board in June. “I believe a democracy depends on a citizen soldiery.”
Cincinnatus was the Roman statesman from fifth-century BC who delivered a crucial military victory, only to leave the splendors of dictatorship to return to his farm. The legend prompted George Washington to form the Society of Cincinnati after the Revolutionary War.
Robinson was no farmer, but he grew up with modest means in a relatively small town in Florida, the son of an elementary school principal father and a mother who worked as a secretary at the Veterans Administration.
Robinson worked as a “field hand” in watermelon patches and tobacco fields at age 12. He joined road construction crews and became a heavy equipment operator after turning 15. While he was excelling in high school, college, and law school, he was earning money on the side to fuel his ambition.
Hard work, delayed gratification, and service became part of his being.
The 75-year-old combat veteran can recount decades of service that includes two tenures on The Florida Bar Board of Governors, membership on countless Bar committees, and leadership posts with business, community, and environmental groups, and leadership positions in his church.
Military and community service should be celebrated and encouraged every day, Robinson says.
“If you’re going to be a citizen in a democracy, you have responsibilities and duties,” he says. “It’s not about what somebody else can do for you, and I think we’ve lost that concept.”
Robinson feels the same way about his legal career.
“The profession has given me so much and enabled me to do so much for my family, that I feel lawyers, especially young lawyers, have a responsibility to give back to the community and their profession,” Robinson said.
In the days of an all-volunteer military, the draft has come to be considered an option of last resort. Robinson’s not sure that’s such a good idea. Military service brings people of widely different backgrounds together, Robinson said.
“They all learn to work together and appreciate each other and watch out for each other,” Robinson said. “It was a great unifying factor for this country and it’s a shame that we’ve lost that.”
Robinson’s military career began in a hurry.
He was sworn into the Marines the day after he graduated FSU. A wedding, to Mary “Dolly” Robinson, immediately followed. The two remain a couple 53 years later.
“I am a very traditional guy,” he says.
The next stop was Quantico, Virginia, for Marine Officer Candidates School and the “most incredible nightmare that you can imagine.”
“Almost everybody gets through boot camp,” Robinson said. “But 40% of an OCS class washes out, because if you can break somebody in training, do you really want them leading troops in the field?”
Robinson didn’t break. After Quantico, there was a brief posting at Camp Lejeune, NC. After that, he was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He spent parts of 1967 and 1968 in Vietnam.
“When I was in Vietnam, I was a first lieutenant,” he said. “I was the S-4 in a Floozy, a forward logistics support unit.”
Robinson earned the Navy Achievement Medal with a Combat V, for valor, but he prefers not to dwell on his combat experience. He was variously stationed in “Happy Valley” and “Elephant Valley,” where there was intense fighting, but that is all he will say.
“Countless men in the history of this nation have answered the call of this nation, and I am certainly not unusual in that sense,” he said. “There is nothing particularly brave about me, I have just tried to do my job the best I could.”
He estimates that about a third of his Marine OCS class was killed or wounded in action.
Military histories show that from 1965 to 1975, nearly 500,000 Marines served in Southeast Asia, and of those, nearly 13,000 were killed and 52,000 wounded, or about a third of all U.S. casualties during the war.
“There are a lot of heroes, a lot of them are dead, and I’ve never served with a finer group of people,” he said. “The Marine Corps teaches you, and I firmly believe it, that there is no finer honor than to lead fellow Marines in the field.”
Robinson wasn’t the only one in his family to make sacrifices.
“When I was deployed, my wife was eight months pregnant,” he said. “So when I came home, my first child was about 11-and-a-half months old.”
Robinson’s return to civilian life wasn’t carefree. When he attended the University of Florida for law school, his clean-Marine appearance rubbed many students the wrong way. He remembers being asked, “How many babies did you kill?”
“You probably can’t print what I told him,” he said.
Robinson continued to serve in the Marine Corps reserve while he attended law school. He was promoted to captain after he left active duty. He spent part of law school earning money on the side abstracting water law.
While most of the country will celebrate Veteran’s Day on November 11, November 10 is just as sacred, if not more so, for Robinson.
“November 10 will be the 244th birthday of the Marine Corps, so I celebrate a day early,” he said.
Today, Robinson is a shareholder at Robinson Kennon Kendron, where he works with his son, Kris. A daughter, Stefani, lives in Georgia. Robinson has four grandchildren. He estimates that during his decades of practice, he has been the attorney of record in 35 counties.
He’s not sure how much longer he will continue to practice law, joking, “My wife still likes me, and I don’t know if that will change if I’m home every day.
“I know the end is coming for me. We don’t live forever,” he said. “But I hope that I have touched some people’s lives positively going through this trip, and I hope I’ve been a good husband and father, because I’ve certainly tried.”