Robinson, chairman emeritus and former chief executive officer at CJRW, the state’s largest advertising and public relations firm and the namesake of the Ron Robinson Theater in Little Rock’s River Market District, died Tuesday after a long period of poor health. He was 75.
Robinson went from being an intern at the advertising agency in 1962 to become its chairman and chief executive officer 30 years later at the agency formerly known as Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods. He became the primary communications coordinator for more than 15 state-level initiative and amendment campaigns and for the campaigns of a number of state and federal officials from Arkansas, including former President Bill Clinton, according to a company biography.
“You look at the advertising agency’s communications firm, the public relations professionals, the public affairs leaders throughout the state and you’ll see a large majority of them were tutored by Ron Robinson,” said Skip Rutherford, dean of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service, who worked at Robinson’s agency from 1992-2006. “He had an enormous impact on communications in Arkansas and really launched the careers of probably hundreds.”
“Ron was an iconic figure in the Arkansas marketing and advertising community,” Darin Gray, chairman and chief executive officer of CJRW, said in a prepared statement. “The leadership and direction he provided this firm in the 1980s and 1990s helped provide us with a solid foundation that helped CJRW grow into one of the largest agencies in the Southwest.”
Robinson was the first intern at the then-Cranford and Johnson agency. He returned as public relations director in 1970 after earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas Fayetteville, and serving as an Air Force officer for almost five years, including service in Vietnam. He worked his way up to vice president in 1973, president and chief operating officer in 1984, then chairman and chief executive officer 1992-1996. He was named chairman emeritus in 2009. The agency’s summer initiative for college students is now the Ronald A. Robinson Intern Program.
Besides his work and legacy as a leading advertising, public relations and marketing professional, Robinson’s sharp memory and his broad range of interests and knowledge of numerous subjects are what several friends said they remember as most unique about him.
“If Arkansas has a Renaissance man, it was probably Ron, particularly if it related to Arkansas,” said Bobby Roberts, retired director of the Central Arkansas Library System and a close friend of Robinson’s. “He was a great collector of Arkansas materials. Even though he was seriously ill for years, he never quit collecting.”
Roberts and David Stricklin, director of the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, both helped influence the naming in 2014 of CALS’ new 315-seat multievent center, the Ron Robinson Theater, which is part of CALS’ main library campus. The honor was for Robinson’s movie expertise and for being an enthusiastic collector of movie posters. Thousands of items related to films and Arkansas history and culture make up the Ronald A. Robinson Collection at the Butler Center.
“Ron was one of these larger-than-life characters who nobody who ever met him forgot,” Stricklin said. “And he never forgot anybody else. His memory was truly remarkable. The other thing about him is there’s nobody who loved Arkansas or Arkansas history more than Ron Robinson. He was the self-appointed booster for everything about the state, everywhere, all the time.”
“He was a great expert on film, so the theater, I thought, was a particularly appropriate thing to have his name on there,” Roberts said. “I’m guessing he had 10,000 movie posters everywhere in his house, and probably the most extensive set of Arkansas-related movies in existence. He not only collected them, he knew about them.”
Robinson’s interest in stamp collecting also helped him get an appointment in 1993 to the U.S. Postal Service Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee by the postmaster general. The group is responsible for the initial screening and recommendation of topics to be displayed on U.S. postage stamps.
Robinson’s work on that committee is credited for many Arkansas-related stamps being issued, Rutherford said. These included stamps commemorating the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School; Hattie Caraway of Jonesboro, the first woman elected as a U.S. senator; and the Clinton Presidential Library.
Robinson collected items even during his later years when his health was failing.
“He loved eBay,” Rutherford said. “Sometimes you’d go to his house and there would be 15 packages that had arrived.
“You could go into his home and he had movie posters framed on the walls,” Rutherford recalled. “When you came back, there would be a whole different set of them. He rotated them, probably thousands of them.”
Stricklin called Robinson’s house “a museum” of so many varied collections.
“Everywhere you looked there were things he collected,” Stricklin said. “It was staggering because he was interested in everything. The last time I saw him a couple of weeks ago, we talked about anchovies for about 20 minutes.
“He was truly interested in everything. He really was larger than life.”