Longtime Bolinas resident Robin Miller passed away on December 20 from lung cancer. He was 55. Robin was a devoted husband and father, who abandoned his native Texas for the beauty and people of West Marin.
“Robin was a wonderful guy. He was always there for us,” said friend Linda Bennett. “He was just a sweet, sweet funny guy, who always had a smile and a joke and a cold beer.” Robin was unfalteringly loyal to his many friends, and will leave a lasting impression on those who knew him.
“He was a great guy who had a wicked sense of humor. If you needed somebody in this town, he was always right there to help you,” said friend Leslie Sproul. “We had a lot of laughs throughout the years. He passed too soon, I’ll tell ya’. It’s weird that he’s not here any more.”
Robin was born on March 21, 1955 to John and Dolly Miller. John was the head of the English department at the University of Texas, Houston, and Dolly taught English at the local junior college.
John and Dolly tried to guide their son towards academics and highbrow culture, but Robin would have none of it. “He was wild and crazy, and wasn’t that great of a student,” said childhood friend Heather Nash. “He was always smiling, joking and having a good time. He was fun to be around.”
Robin embraced the burgeoning 1960s surfer culture, and decided that he needed a surfboard. His father refused to buy him one, so he mowed lawns and did odd jobs to raise the money. He surfed, skied, skateboarded and listened to rock and roll. He also played classical cello in a children’s symphony with his brother, Stuart—the sole victory of his effete parents.
After graduating from high school in 1973, Robin spent one semester studying physics at the University of Colorado, Denver before dropping out. He took a job on an oil rig in Texas, where he worked for six months before a massive pipe landed on his leg, pinning him to the ground. He underwent knee surgery, but never fully recovered from the injury.
Despite his aversion to academia, Robin was a talented writer and speaker. “He was always correcting spelling and pronunciation,” said his wife, Nancy. “And he could spell anything; he never needed a dictionary or thesaurus.” Later, after waking from a brain operation needed for his treatment, Robin composed a letter to his surgeons: “For this, but by the grace of God’s agile hand, will be as hard a fight as ever could be. I only pray His guidance over these brave men as they attempt a task tackled by few. For who would have the sheer guts, education, expertise, ego, testicular fortitude to fly their mighty jets on a mission of such daunting odds?”
After the oilrig disaster, Robin decided to head for the surf. He drove to California in a rusted pickup with his dog, Roast Beef. “He was hooked on surfing,” said his wife, Nancy. His truck broke down halfway across the Golden Gate Bridge. Stuck without transportation a thousand miles from home, Robin remembered that he had a distant cousin who lived in Stinson Beach. “He called her up, moved to West Marin, and never left,” Nancy said.
Initially, Robin was a strange fit for West Marin. He kept the southern sensibilities of his upbringing, but adopted the surfer culture and free spirit of Northern California. “Robin was the renegade,” Nancy said. “He was the Marlboro Man—a wild guy in an old-school denim jacket, cowboy boots and a belt buckle with dueling chainsaws.”
Robin got a position as a sous chef at Mountain Home Inn on top of Mount Tam. “He was a great cook,” said his brother, Stu. “After he cooked professionally, he really kept on with that, and always had fine food going.” He later became head chef until the business went under and Robin had to move on.
It was difficult to find work, so Robin took a variety of jobs around California, including tree work in Auburn and driving giant snow cats deep in the alpine mountains. “He had a really strong work ethic,” Nancy said. “He could find work where no work existed.”
Robin finally got a job as an arborist at Oakander Tree Service in Bolinas. “He had a lot of fun doing that,” Nancy said. “He would hang upside down in his gear, 70 feet from the ground off of a eucalyptus tree. Then there was his bulldog, McDuff, who he’d hoist up in the tree wearing a hard hat.”
It didn’t take long for Robin to notice his boss’ pretty sister, Nancy. “Once I was at my mom’s house across the street. I was selling pillows. He came in, gave me a smile, and I thought: ‘I like this guy.’” They were married four months later, in May of 1988.
Tree work proved to be too dangerous for a young family man. Shortly after meeting Nancy, Robin cut his hand open with a chainsaw after it bounced off of a log. When his son Zach was born, Robin became a plumber, and started his own company in Bolinas. His daughter, Bailey, was born several years later. His first son from a former relationship, Casey, came to visit his father with more frequency.
“He was a great father. He was so proud of his wonderful girls and his wonderful, athletic sons,” Linda said.
Robin took parenting seriously. “He spent every waking morning with those kids. Robin was the coach of every team Zach was on until high school,” Nancy said. “When he played college ball, Robin was there at every game.”
Robin was diagnosed with lung cancer in the fall of 2009. His health declined quickly, and he passed away while on vacation with his family in Calistoga.
Robin is survived by his wife Nancy; children Casey, Zach, Bailey and stepdaughter Joanne; sister Beace and his brother Stuart. A memorial will be held on January 29 at 1:30 p.m. at 125 Birch Road, in Bolinas. Donations to Robin’s family can be made to Nancy Miller, PO Box 171, Bolinas, California, 94924. Those who wish to remain anonymous can contact Debbie Morrison at (415) 868.0382.