Thomas Robinson, 74, technical manager at Bethlehem Steel, entertainer in group

August 13, 1996|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

Thomas F. Robinson looked quite at ease in his red plaid suit and top hat as he tickled the piano keys. And he always seemed to get a few chuckles when he told his jokes, many with but marginal humor.

But he was an entertainer, and if just one person who saw or heard him laughed or relaxed or forgot their troubles for a few moments, he was happy.

"He tried as best he could to always make everyone happy," said his daughter, Christine Peery of Severna Park. "And he was usually able to do it. He got in front of people and performed as best he could."

Mr. Robinson, 74, died Fridayat his Severna Park home of heart failure. He was one of the founding members of the Severna Park Bums, a group of five or six performers who entertained voluntarily at area nursing homes, parades and fund-raisers. The Bums were formed in 1970.

Mr. Robinson was the Bums' piano player and gagster -- and he was equally proficient at giving and receiving the one-liners as he was at playing ragtime.

"I was downtown and I saw a henway," he'd say.

What's a henway?

"Oh, about 3 pounds."

A native of Braintree, Mass., Mr. Robinson graduated from the School of Naval Architecture at the University of Michigan in 1943 and served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946 during World War II.

After his discharge, he worked at steelyards in Staten Island, N.Y., and Quincy, Mass., before taking a job as a Naval architect at the Bethlehem Steel Corp. plant in Sparrows Point in 1964 and moving to Severna Park. In 1984, he retired as general technical manager at Sparrows Point.

"He was always happiest when he was playing the piano," said John Robinson, another member of the Bums and no relation. "He was really a jazz pianist, but he had to adapt to us because we did a lot of crazy stuff."

Thomas Robinson initiated many of the pranks.

In some Bums' performances -- especially during their long rendition of "The William Tell Overture" -- Mr. Robinson pulled a Dagwood-like sandwich from his jacket and ate it onstage during a seemingly endless violin solo.

"He looked right at the audience and ate it," John Robinson said. "But once the violin was finished, he'd get right back in on beat. He wouldn't miss a beat. His timing was magnificent."

Although performing was somewhat of a hobby, Mr. Robinson was a skilled pianist who practiced regularly.

"They were all very skilled entertainers," Ms. Peery said. "He just looked totally ridiculous in that red plaid suit of his. But he loved it, he thought he looked wonderful and it was his favorite suit. He got a big kick out of himself."

Wearing his top hat brought out the showmanship in him, said Stanley Davis, a fellow Bum. "He wore it to be a little different. He had a delicious sense of humor," he said.

The Bums will continue to perform, John Robinson said. "But it won't be the same," he said.

A memorial service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church, 611 Baltimore Annapolis Blvd. in Severna Park.

He is survived by his wife, the former Jean Stenhouse of Severna Park, whom he married in 1943; a son, James Robinson of New York City; two daughters, Christine Peery of Severna Park and JoAnn Pyles of Arnold; a brother, John Robinson of Piscataway, N.J.; two sisters, Barbara Brown and Judith Kidder, both of Lancaster, Pa.; and six grandchildren.

Donations may be sent to Woods Memorial Presbyterian Church or Hospice of the Chesapeake, 8424 Veterans Highway, Millersville 21108.

Pub Date: 8/13/96

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