By H. Ted Upgren Jr.
Probably not a person in OWAA can forget the first time he or she met Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson. I know I never will.
I had just completed my stint as local chairman of the 1992 OWAA conference in Bismarck, N.D., and one year later found myself in Portland, Ore., for the 1993 conference. Happy to be done with chairing responsibilities, I was looking forward to taking in the conference as a regular member.
In the conference headquarters’ hotel gathering area I heard someone yell my name, “Ted, Ted!” I turned to look and noticed several people whom I didn’t recognize approaching me. They were the Maine contingent, in Portland, partly to gear up for the conference they would host in 1994.
Heading the group (apparently) was a slight, shortish, elderly, white-haired fellow who ran up to me with his hand out.
“Ted, you were the chairman of the Bismarck conference last year, right?” he asked warmly as he pumped my hand.
I looked down upon this energetic soul, rather caught off guard, and replied, “Ah, yes, yes, I was — Were you there? — I don’t recall meeting you.” He was attired in a pullover shirt, cutoff jeans revealing white, knobby gams and silver aviator glasses framed over smiling eyes.
“You’ll have to speak up,” he said. “I’ve got aids.”
That stopped me cold. I was momentarily speechless.
“Just kidding, Ted,” he said. “I’ve got hearing aids in both ears and neither one works worth a damn. Hey, guess what?”
He didn’t give me time to guess.
“I’m gonna be the local chairman for next year’s meeting in Orono,” he said.
“Where?” I asked
“In Orono,” he said. “Orono, Maine — and I’m not letting you out of my sight this whole conference till I’ve picked your brain clean.”
Finally he offered his name as he once more extended his hand. “I’m Wilmot Robinson,” he said. “Everybody just calls me Wiggie.” (His original nickname was “Wiggles” because he didn’t sit still much as a youngster — nor as most of us have learned, during a robust adulthood.)
At that he spun on his heals, in a complete circle, once, maybe twice. “I can’t seem to keep my team together — they always scatter,” he chuckled.
He grabbed me by the wrist and dragged me toward his group. “Hey guys!” yelled Wiggie. “I want you to meet Ted. Ted was the local chairman at last year’s conference in Bismarck. He’s gonna teach me everything I need to know to get ready for Orono.”
Thus began a warm relationship with a humble man of great inspirational character.
Full of wit and charisma, I always thought Wiggie could have sold the London Bridge 10 times over with pure charm. Yet he seemed more interested in selling others on themselves. Wiggie was a great listener, and more than once in some of my troublesome days his council was sought. He was always more interested in learning about some other person’s life than boasting of his own. He was a devout, God-fearing man.
That year in Portland he was 71 years old. He never missed a beat, dogged me like he said he would through Break Out and Shooting days. He had stamina and the spirit of youth. Together we participated in a number of shooting contests, and he was competitive. He bet me a “lobstahhh” roll, several of which he carried from Maine in a small cooler, if I out shot him. I finally did. He was a good scatter gunner but wanted to try everything. The last he shot, no doubt, was Browning’s 450 Marlin at Roanoke’s Shooting day — at age 85. “Good for Maine moose,” he said after shouldering the authoritative recoil.
In 1994 Wiggie was on hand to provide Maine hospitality and bountiful hugs. He was a man on the go and had his hand in a lot of that conference. Afterward, I was a guest of Wiggie and his wife, Joyce, at their Maine camp on the beautiful Penobscot River beneath Mount Katahdin. True to his background as a Master Maine Guide, he had canoes stashed on a variety of trails that usually led to quiet ponds where he fly-fished for brook trout.
One morning he was tending his German shorthair dogs and weeding his garden — a place he loved and where he died — before we left for a hike into Slaughter Pond. “How many canoes you got, Wiggie?” I asked.
“I don’t know for sure,” said Wiggie. “Seven or eight, I guess. But I misplaced one. Maybe someone stole it. So I think seven.”
I’d been rummaging around his backyard and poked into an overgrown area on the backside of his pump and generator house. “Is this one back here one of the seven?” I asked.
He walked over. “Well, I’ll be darned,” he said. “Ted, I think I own eight canoes.”
Knowing Wiggie just from conference told you of the goodness of this man. But few of us knew of his storied background. He was born in 1922, in Millinocket, Maine, one of 12 children. His playground was Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin. When he was 11, he and his brother literally lived in the park, eventually befriended by Ranger Dudley who let the boys earn their park entry fees (25 cents per night). “We thought we were Maine guides,” Wiggie said. He did it for four summers. They cut tree boughs for bedding that visitors “bought” in exchange for some extra food or an occasional tip.
Wiggie’s passion for the outdoors was kindled in those years, even though he didn’t get his love of the outdoors from his dad. He fished once with his dad. His zeal came from his Katahdin adventures. The boys climbed everything in sight, topped Mount Katahdin more than a hundred times and finally climbed it with Bill Irwin Jr., the blind hiker and Columbia keynoter. Wiggie was 80 then.
Out of high school Wiggie enlisted in the Army and drove trucks in Iran during World War II. Already an avid sportsman, Wiggie wasted no time looking for something to hunt. His commanding officer gave him permission to hunt for some fresh meat. He and his buddies came back with 26 gazelles. “Tastes just like deer,” Wiggie said.
After the war and at 29 years old Wiggie became a Master Maine Guide. He then worked for the Great Northern Paper Mill (from which he retired) and on days off guided hunters, fishers and hikers. He did this until the last days of his life.
Wiggie lacked a formal education, yet he became a persuasive and apt outdoors communicator through trial and error. He hosted the “Maine Outdoors Show” radio program with sidekick Paul Reynolds of Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Wiggie served that department as a lay adviser over the years. He became a regular columnist with the Millinocket Community Press and freelanced for Northwoods Sporting Journal.
After that first trip to Oregon in 1993, Wiggie never missed another conference even though its costs were financially challenging. He always figured out a way to attend because he often told me, “I love OWAA and all the wonderful people.”
This year after Roanoke, Herman Brune, one of Wiggie’s best friends, trekked to the camp on the Penobscot and followed Wiggie through the Maine woods for several days. After the banquet at Roanoke, Herman and Wiggie were planning that visit. I interrupted to remind Wiggie not to forget his trip to Bismarck for the 2008 conference. Prophetically, I recall him saying to me, “I don’t know if I’ll make it, Ted.” I later mused: Was he talking costs or something else?
Wiggie leaves his wife, Joyce, three years his junior, daughters Judy and Patsy and son Jay who has followed in his dad’s footsteps and operates Katahdin Country Guide Service as a Maine Master Guide. He lost a son, Michael, in an industrial accident at Great Northern Paper.
The gathering areas of future OWAA conferences will be different. Our friendship with a simple man with an uncommon love for the outdoors, and especially for his fellow man, will never let us forget Wilmot “Wiggie” Robinson.
As a holder of a Jackie Pfeiffer Memorial Award he exemplified “genuine warmth and radiance, goodwill, helpfulness, generosity and kindness to others.” Future OWAA gathering areas may be different, but remembering Wiggie will cause us all to be better people and members.
Author H. Ted Upgren Jr., a past president of OWAA, writes from Bismarck, N.D.