Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Merrill Driggs Robison of Winslow passed away on October 5th at Saint Michaels Hospital in Bremerton after a very long and interesting life. He would have celebrated his 96th birthday in January.
Born in Longview, Washington on January 3, 1925 to John and Sadie Robison, he was the youngest of seven children and one of the first to be born in that planned lumber city. After moving to Yakima for ten years his family returned to Longview and he attended R.A. Long High School and Lower Columbia Junior College. Merrill then attended the University of Washington on an ROTC scholarship and graduated with a B.S in Aeronautical Engineering, looking forward to a future in Seattle’s aviation industry.
He fulfilled his ROTC obligations at Naval Air Station Olathe outside of Kansas City and later at Mid-Shipman school at Notre Dame. While in Kansas City he met Hazel Haig, a flight attendant for TWA from Nutley, NJ on Christmas Eve, 1945, while she was on a layover. They fell in love, and, after a bi-coastal romance, they married and settled in Longview. With the help of friends he built a modest house there.
Discovering that engineering work at Boeing was scarce after the war he accepted a position as a draftsman at Weyerhaeuser Corporation. He was promoted quickly, working his way up by supervising the building of several pulp mills – including plants in Longview, Cosmopolis and Kamloops. In 1967 he was promoted to Senior Vice President and moved his family to the Tacoma area. There he supervised the construction of Weyerhaeuser’s Research and Development facility in Federal Way.
Several of his high school friends also became members of Weyerhaeuser’s upper management and together they became known jokingly as the ‘Longview Mafia’. During this time he and Hazel raised four sons – Geoff, Warren (Holt), Phil and Merrill, Jr. (Rob) – while frequently moving to various Weyerhaeuser towns in the Northwest. Ultimately the family landed in Lakewood, south of Tacoma when he started work in Weyerhaeuser’s corporate offices. Merrill and Hazel loved to socialize and became known locally as gracious hosts during this period, often with philanthropy in mind.
Though work had him traveling a lot, Merrill loved his family and he and Hazel devoted themselves to many family activities that had a lasting impact. In the mid-1950s he bought waterfront property near Shelton and built a small cabin there where the family spent many memorable summers. That beloved cabin is still enjoyed by his children and a wide network of relatives. He and Hazel also hosted an annual gathering of friends at the cabin they dubbed the ‘Summer Games’.
For many summers there were long and memorable road vacations in the family station wagon. He was an avid skier and bought one of the first condominiums in White Pass. The family seldom missed a weekend there for many winters. He was also an passionate boater and later in life would pilot countless family cruises to the San Juan Islands and Desolation Sound in his 44’ boat the Robison Crusoe.
Hazel passed away unexpectedly in 1977 and Merrill retired from Weyerhaeuser shortly afterwards. He met Sally Kelley and they were married, bringing Sally’s two sons, Charles and Kenan, into the family. He had a house built on Eagle Harbor, in Winslow, Bainbridge Island, and designed a program to run on his new Apple II to control its novel solar energy heating system. He and Sally moved there from his home on Gravelly Lake. During this time he formed Eagle Harbor Enterprises and pursued several small business projects, including vintage car restoration, one of his passions. An early London Taxicab, a vintage MG and a 1948 Lincoln were among his projects. At the same time he wanted to contribute to his new community and he enthusiastically became involved in Bainbridge Island politics, serving on the Winslow City Council, the City of Bainbridge Island City Council, and running for Mayor. He was also a member of the Reclaim Our Waterfront organization, the Bainbridge Economic Council and was named Business Partner Of The Year by the Bainbridge Island Chamber. For several years he manned the Chamber’s Bainbridge Island Visitor Information booth. In addition, he served on the Board of Trustees of the Pacific Science Center.
He was preceded in death by his wife Hazel, his wife Sally, and his son Merrill, Jr. He is survived by sons Geoff, Holt, Phil and stepsons Charles Kelley and Kenan Kelley; two granddaughters Chloe and Camille (Holt); and three step-grandchildren, Brendan, Daniel and Ciera. In addition, he left a large family of loving nephews and nieces.
Merrill touched a lot of people and will be missed by family members, friends, and his community on Bainbridge alike. A celebration of his life will be held at a later date.
The family would like to express its gratitude to Rommel Nomarosa, of Kayin’s In-Home Care Services, for the excellent care he gave Merrill.