ATTLEBORO — When Peter Gay caught a glimpse of Marcus Robbins in his cycling shorts, he said it was a sight “he wanted to get out of his head as soon as possible.”
And Robbins would have laughed at that.
“He was very easygoing and laughed more at the joke (at him) than the person making the joke,” said Gay, North TV’s chief executive officer.
Gay and Robbins were together at the now-defunct Attleboro Lions Club, and Gay said Robbins received a lot of criticism from his fellow Lions for often inappropriately dressing.
“[The outfit]very rarely matched,” Gay said. “But he enjoyed ripping just as much as he enjoyed ripping. He was a character.”
Robbins died at his Ashton Road home last week, six days before his 88th birthday. His daughter, Janet Robinson, and a longtime family friend, Sarah M. Schaefer, were with him.
He was the widower of former Mayor Judy Robbins, who died in a traffic accident in 2015 at the age of 78.
At that point, the couple had been married for 54 years.
Friends said her death hit Marcus hard.
When she died, Judy Robbins was Chair of the Attleboro Redevelopment Authority.
She previously served six terms, or 12 years, as mayor of Attleboro.
In addition to his good nature, there was a side to Robbins that many people never saw, and that was his generosity, Gay said.
It was a trait he shared with his wife, who tried to keep her giving under the radar but wasn’t always successful.
When it’s public, it’s hard to keep it secret.
For example, in 1999 she donated thousands of dollars to fund Attleboro’s annual Fourth of July fireworks show after fundraising fell short.
And in 2007, while she was North Attleboro City Administrator, she donated $5,000 toward new uniforms for the high school marching band.
I didn’t search for ‘spotlight’
Her husband was like that, Gay said.
“Marcus never sought the limelight,” he said. “He was very humble and made more contributions to the city of Attleboro than people will ever know.”
When he was in his 60s, Marcus Robbins was helping start the Attleboro Criterium Bicycle Race when Gay spotted him in tights. But as another friend, John Rhyno, the former North Attleboro election chairman, said, Robbins didn’t care what people thought.
“Marcus walked to the beat of his own drum,” Rhyno said. “And there’s nothing wrong with that. When you go through life, you better go through it on your own terms.”
And that’s exactly what Robbins did.
In fact, both he and his wife did — maybe that’s what brought them together and made them successful.
“When he wanted to do something, there was no stopping him,” Rhyno said.
“Anyone who knew Marcus Robbins would be the first to tell you that he has his own way of doing things and he did it that way. He was a decent guy. I liked him.”
Robbins was a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in mechanical engineering.
He met Judy at a friend’s wedding in California while he was studying for his master’s degree.
The couple married in 1961 and moved to Attleboro in 1962 after his father, who ran a machine shop in town, suffered a heart attack.
Robbins’ obituary states that Judy was not thrilled to move east, but fell in love with Attleboro and served on the city council for years before becoming mayor. She later continued that service on the ARA board with a stint as a city manager in North Attleboro.
For some, they were an odd couple, but the marriage was successful.
Rhyno summed it up: “It worked for her.”
Marcus worked for a time at Bottomley & Robbins, which his father founded in 1948, before founding his own business, Foreign Car Specialists, in North Attleboro in the 1970s.
He had a passion for cars, especially Porsches.
“He kept generations of cars running and quickly towed away when someone got stranded on a freeway,” says his obituary.
Rhyno described him as “very talented”.
Aside from being an accomplished mechanic and businessman, Robbins loved sports and competitions.
He loved to sail, ski, play tennis and ride a bike.
Robbins and his wife were members of the Bearcroft Swim and Tennis Club, which allowed him to play tennis year-round.
“Sailing was in his blood and he could be found at the Barrington Yacht Club on Tuesday nights during the racing season,” says his obituary. “He was an accomplished sailor and was quick to raise a hand for any captain who needed a crew.”
Robbins was as well known for his intelligence as he was for the dirt under his fingernails, no doubt from working on cars or the bikes he liked to fix.
But while it seemed difficult at times to get past Robbins’ surface, he had a caring heart.
Rhyno said when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, Robbins called him twice a week to find out how she and he were doing.
“That was incredible,” Rhyno said. “It was a side of him that a lot of people never saw.”
Following the death of his wife, Robbins served for one term on the city’s advisory board after being appointed by then-Mayor Kevin Dumas in 2016.
His skills were appreciated by then chief assessor Stanley Nacewicz.
“He was very intelligent and very helpful to the board,” said Nacewicz.
He said Robbins isn’t afraid to ask questions and challenge him.
“He will be missed, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.
Frank Cook, who served five terms as City Council President, said Robbins was admirable in the way he supported his wife.
“Marcus was always supportive of Judy,” he said. “I’ve always admired that. As a politician, this support is very important, very important.”
But Cook said the couple is admirable for another reason.
“I thought they were good role models,” he said. “They belong to a dying breed of people. They were deeply involved in the community they lived in and didn’t want to be singled out for their contributions.”
Cook said too often people seek praise for their contributions, particularly politicians, but that didn’t happen with the Robbins.
Cook noted that the couple were very supportive of the Literacy Center and of course Markman Children’s Programs, which was renamed Robbins Children’s Programs after Judy’s death.
“Catalyst of Progress”
“You have always been so kind and generous to us,” Janice Chabot, director of Robbins Children’s Programs, said in an email. “We are so grateful to have been a part of her life and we hers.”
In a more formal follow-up statement, Chabot said the couple’s contributions “were instrumental in the construction of our facility at 803 North Main Street.
“Marcus is fondly remembered as he often stopped by to see what was new at RCP and always welcomed hearing stories about how Judy’s knowledge and ideas were a catalyst in our progress.”
Marcus Robbins is survived by his children Andrew Robbins and his wife Laurie and Janet Robinson and her husband Brian, all from Seattle, Washington and five grandchildren, Samantha Robbins and Maxwell Marcus Robbins, Page Robinson, Graham Robinson, Reid Robinson.
He was deceased in 2011 by his brother Sam Robbins of Attleboro and in 2022 by his sister Connie Paulding of Salt Lake City, Utah.
At his home, 20 Ashton Road, there will be a celebration of life on Sunday 29 May at 2pm