Celebration of life set for Olin Robison

MIDDLEBURY — The family of the late Olin C. Robison this Sunday will host a celebration of the life of the 13th president of Middlebury College.
Current Middlebury College President Laurie Patton and President Emeritus John McCardell Jr. will be among those speaking at the celebration on Sunday, Jan. 27, at 1 p.m. at Middlebury’s Mahaney Arts Center in the concert hall named in honor of Robison, who led the college from 1975 to 1990.
Robison died on Oct. 22, 2018, in Baltimore, Md., with family members by his side. He had been in poor health for several years. Robison was 82.
Olin Clyde Robison, who made careers in both higher education and in foreign diplomacy, was credited by many for taking Middlebury College into the higher ranks of higher education in the United States.
He was born in Anacoco, La., grew up in Port Arthur, Texas. He studied at Baylor University, Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary and Oxford University, where he earned a D.Phil. in church history in 1963. Family said his experience at these institutions marked him deeply, instilling in him a lifelong belief that education is the great equalizer in our democracy.
In the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, Robison served as director of university affairs at the Peace Corps before moving to the State Department in 1966. He returned to academia in 1968, working at Wesleyan University and Bowdoin College before coming to Middlebury College at age 39.
He had a personal and professional interest in the Soviet Union and its relations with the United States. He considered one of his most significant achievements to be the establishment in 1987 of the American Collegiate Consortium for East-West Cultural and Academic Exchange. This brought Soviet undergraduates to study in the United States, something that was almost unheard-of even in the waning days of the Soviet Union.
In addition, he participated in numerous trips sponsored by the State Department and non-governmental organizations to Moscow, acting as a personal representative for Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Drawing on his background in the ministry, he played a central role in negotiating the release of two families of Soviet Pentecostal Christians who sought asylum in the United States embassy in Moscow in 1978 and spent the next five years living inside the embassy.
After a one-year sabbatical as a fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, Robison became the eighth President and CEO of the Salzburg Seminar, a nonprofit organization based in Salzburg, Austria, whose mission is to challenge current and future leaders to develop creative ideas for solving global problems.
Also lined up to speak at Sunday’s celebration of Robison’s life is former College Chaplain John Walsh. Musical performances will be staged by Diana Fanning and the Middlebury College Choir. Special guests will include Bill Moyers and Dr. Ernest Bates. A reception will follow in the Mahaney Arts Center.

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