Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Lucius Franklin Robinson died at Hartford on June 11, 1941, after an illness of about two weeks. He was born in Hartford on June 12, 1863, the eldest child of Henry Cornelius and Eliza Niles (Trumbull) Robinson.
On the paternal side he came of a family which had attained distinction at the bar not only in the person of his father (see 72 Conn. 735) but also in that of his uncle (see 29 Conn. 606), whose name he bore, and who died comparatively young after displaying marked talent as a lawyer. On his mother's side he came of a family outstanding in the history of Connecticut.
He attended a local grammar school in Hartford, the Hartford Public High School and Yale University. His college career was a distinct success. His scholastic record was good and, being strong and active, he engaged in various forms of athletics. His record in the hundred yards was ten and one-half seconds, he rowed in an eight-oared boat and he played end on two of Yale's elevens. He won prizes in declamation and composition and was one of those who completed with his classmate and lifelong friend Governor Wilber L. Cross for the DeForest Prize. Socially too he was among the first in his class, being elected to Phi Upsilon and Skull and Bones and chosen by his classmates for their dinner and prom committees.
Mr. Robinson was graduated from Yale in 1885 and returned to Hartford to study law in his father's office. In 1887 he was admitted to the bar and commenced practice with his father under the name of H. C. and L. F. Robinson. When his brother Henry S. Robinson became a lawyer in 1891 the name of the firm was changed to Robinson and Robinson. Henry S. Robinson practiced only four years, but in 1896 the youngest brother, John T. Robinson (see 124 Conn. 704), was admitted to practice with the partnership. Henry C. Robinson died in 1900 and thereafter the brothers continued in their professional partnership for many years although the firm name was changed in 1913 to Robinson, Robinson and Cole and new partners were admitted from time to time until there were nine in all. Henry C. Robinson's office was located on Central Row on the second floor of the Marble Block, a building which belonged to the Estate of David F. Robinson, the grandfather of Lucius F. Robinson, and there the offices continued until about 1922.
Mr. Robinson was a member of the Court of Common Council of Hartford from 1889 until 1891 and president of that body in the latter year. He serve on the board of fire commissioners from 1894 to 1897 and on the board of park commissioners of the city from 1901 to 1912, being president of that board during his term of office. He became a member of the State Park and Forest Commission in 1913 and continued to serve in that capacity until his death, holding the chairmanship of the commission for twenty years from 1917 to 1937 and being responsible in large measure for the successful development of its work. He was inherently fond of the woods and streams and hills of Connecticut and deeply interested in the natural history of his native state. During his service on the State Park Commission, its province came to include, from a small, almost negligible beginning, twelve thousand acres of parks and eighty thousand acres of forest land scattered throughout the state, giving persons from all walks of life and in all parts of Connecticut the opportunity for wholesome recreation and enjoyment.
In 1887 Mr. Robinson was chosen a director of the Hartford Public Library, and in 1890, a director of the First National Bank, on which board he served for over half a century. In 1900 he was elected a director of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company and his term of service on that board was the longest in the annals of the Company. In the same year he was elected a director of the Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company. He was also a director of the Connecticut Fire Insurance Company, of which his grandfather, David F. Robinson, was in 1850 one of the original incorporators, and a director of the Phoenix Insurance Company. His industrial directorships included the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company, Veeder-Root Incorporated and the Billings and Spencer Company. For many years he was on the board of the Hartford Retreat.
During the first World War he was a member of the Connecticut State Guard First Infantry, serving as a private in Company B and was also a member of the State Council of Defense, appointed thereto by Governor Marcus H. Holcomb.
Thoughtful in his observations on the changing phases of the body politic, Mr. Robinson was disposed to defend the doctrine of state's rights and to show concern over the trend towards federal centralization. He served as president of the Hartford County Bar Association and also as president of the State Bar Association of Connecticut. When he retired from the latter office in 1926 he delivered an address at the annual meeting in which he paid tribute to our indestructible union of indestructible states, questioning whether the increasing assumption of power by the central national government might not contain the seeds of disruption of the Union. In the concluding phrases of this address he referred to the "the incontrovertible fact that we as a people are rapidly and nonchalantly abandoning in a large measure the fundamental principle which the founders and our forebears for a century believed was essential to the integrity of the Union" and expressed the hope that the general recognition of this fact, "by the lawyers of the country and under their enlightened leadership by its electorate" would compel a reaction which might ensure the preservation of the Republic as a demonstration of the self-governing capacity of a great people. In the Prohibition Amendment he saw not only a violation of the doctrine of states' rights but a sumptuary law in constitutional form impossible of enforcement. On the question of repeal of this amendment he displayed his public interest for nearly a decade, appearing and expressing himself in 1925 at a hearing in the hall of the House before a legislative committee in opposition to the so-called Wheeler Bill, engaging in 1929 in a notable debate on the subject of prohibition with Chief Justice Wheeler at a meeting of the State Bar Association and finally witnessing the achievement of his objective when in July, 1933, he presided as chairman of the Constitutional Convention of Connecticut which ratified the Repeal Amendment.
Notwithstanding the strength and energy which he expended in public and other outside interests, his greatest devotion was to the practice of the law. Few, if any, lawyers were his equal in the general breadth of their practical legal knowledge, and no member of the bar of Connecticut excelled him in the understanding of corporate law and procedure. While trial work was not his specialty, from 1889, when he first appeared before our Supreme Court, for a period of perhaps fifty years he appeared from time to time both in the trial and appellate courts, always well prepared to present his case and always presenting it with a most persuasive tolerance and logic. He possessed a rare gift of graceful expression, employing now and then phrases of singularly elusive charm. For years he watched for various clients the doings of the General Assembly and in this way became familiar not only with the laws that were enacted but also with much of the legal background which was thought to demand statutory modification. He was recognized as a wise counsellor whose first consideration was the public interest.
During the period of his career at the bar, Mr. Robinson witnessed developments of federal legislation and regulation which in their volume and complexity as a whole passed the limits of human understanding. When he commenced to practice, federal control of business and of the individual was trivial, but with the tremendous power of the purse which ensued from the income tax amendment and with the waning of the judicial doctrines of "due process of law" and the reserve powers of the states the doors were open to vast extensions of federal control over what had theretofore been regarded as local affairs. For a lawyer the easy course would have been not to keep abreast of the times. But this course he did not choose, giving long hours of hard work and earnest attention to the task of acquainting himself with these new developments in centralized power. He became an expert in the law of federal taxation and sufficiently familiar with the important Congressional Acts relating to labor and business, finance and agriculture to make his advice sound and highly valued by his numerous loyal clients.
As he advanced to the later years of his life he relinquished to some extent his active work, but up until the time of his last illness he maintained the connections which he cherished most in the practice of his profession and he maintained an alert mind and vigorous personality. His death brought to a close a remarkable record of success at college, in his chosen profession, in his business connections, in the public service and in his personal relations with friends and partners. In resolutions adopted after his death the Board of Alderman made record of the fact that his name would always be synonymous with the finest ideals of American citizenship. In a letter to the Hartford Court, his minister, the Reverend Warren S. Archibald, expressed this gracious tribute:
"His life was characterized by greatness. He was a great man. He was great in character, great in personality, great in his affections, loyalties and ideals. He was great in his profession. He was great in his friendships and in all those spiritual qualities which bind us together in love and devotion. He had great ability, so that he could perform and carry to completion most difficult tasks and problems. He had great kindness, so that all who knew him loved and admired him. They will always remember with pride and thanksgiving the warm, friendly, gentle and able man who in this Pilgrim's way was worthy to be entitled `Great Heart' and `Valiant for Truth'."
When Yale in 1926 conferred upon Mr. Robinson the honorary degree of LL.D., Professor William Lyon Phelps used a sentence expressive of the former's personality when he said: "A certain incurable modesty has made Lucius Robinson ambitious for the welfare of everyone except himself, and today it is fitting that such success and such unselfishness should receive public recognition."
On December 5, 1894, he married Elinor Cooke, of Paterson, N.J. She and three sons, Lucius F. Robinson, Jr., Barclay Robinson and Henry C. Robinson, survive him, the two eldest sons being members of his firm.