Sky & Telescope editor emeritus Leif J. Robinson passes away at age 71
Robinson was a champion of professional-amateur astronomy collaborations.
March 1, 2011
Leif J. Robinson, who served for 20 years as editor in chief of Sky and Telescope magazine, passed away Sunday, February 27, at the age of 71 at his home in Costa Rica.
Leif in his office at 48 Bay State Road. Sky & Telescope: Dennis di Cicco
Robinson worked 38 years on the staff of Sky & Telescope and served as editor in chief from 1980 to 2000. Sky & Telescope is a monthly magazine based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. First published in November 1941, the magazine is approaching its 70th anniversary.
"Leif was a towering figure in the history of Sky & Telescope, and he tirelessly promoted the capabilities and achievements of amateur astronomers," said current Editor in Chief Robert Naeye. "During his tenure, Sky & Telescope's circulation grew significantly, and the magazine's stature grew by leaps and bounds in the amateur and professional communities."
"Every one of us who worked with Leif was inspired by his strong leadership, which emphasized journalistic and ethical principles of accuracy and integrity. These core values continue to guide everything we do at Sky & Telescope," said Senior Editor Dennis di Cicco, who worked with Robinson for more than 25 years and remained in close contact after his retirement.
Robinson was born May 21, 1939, in Connecticut. He moved to Southern California in 1954 and became an active member in the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. Shortly thereafter, he began writing articles for Sky & Telescope about lunar cartography.
While visiting his grandparents in Connecticut in 1962, he received a telegram from Sky & Telescope offering him a job. Robinson initially planned to reject this offer so he could complete his studies at UCLA. But he decided to accept it after talking with Sky & Telescope’s office staffer Caroline Nason, whom he would later marry. Robinson held several editorial positions until 1980, when he was named third editor in chief following the sudden death of Joseph Ashbrook.
During his 38-year tenure on Sky & Telescope's editorial staff, Robinson became a champion of professional-amateur collaborations. Seeing the potential of rapidly evolving digital technology in the 1980s, Robinson lobbied professionals to take amateur observations seriously, an effort that has been amply rewarded with major amateur contributions in many different fields, from discovering asteroids, comets, and supernovae to hunting for and characterizing planets around other stars. "I was one of the few people to walk in both communities with equal facility," said Robinson. "The professionals didn't yet fully realize what the amateurs were capable of doing, and the amateurs didn't understand what they were capable of doing."
Robinson officially retired December 31, 2000. But he remained active until the very end of his life. He wrote the popular "50 & 25 Years Ago" column for Sky & Telescope, and he continued to give talks to general audiences and amateur astronomers. From 2001 to 2005, he served on the Board of Directors of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Besides his career at Sky & Telescope, Robinson was a world-class birdwatcher, and he authored the book Outdoor Optics.
"Today is a day of mourning at S&T, but we are also celebrating his life and achievements. Leif's legacy will always remain a part of who we are and what we do," said Senior Editor Alan MacRobert, who worked with Robinson for 18 years.
His second wife “Ollie,” son Leif, Jr., and daughter Kara survive Robinson.