Published in Trib Total Media, online only from Feb. 7 to Feb. 9, 2017
John N. Robinson
1932 - 2017
On Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017, Dr. John N. Robinson
passed away peacefully after a battle with cancer.
John was fiercely independent in all aspects of his life
He was born Oct. 19, 1932, in Washington D.C., and
a 1950 graduate of Coolidge High School in
He served in the Marine Corps between 1951 and 1954. He fought in the infantry on
the main line of resistance during the Korean War. He was wounded in action,
suffering bullet and shrapnel wounds to his abdomen. Although he rarely spoke of that
experience, it shaped his life course after returning from the war, discharged with the
rank of sergeant. He attended the University of Maryland on the GI Bill, graduating with
a degree in industrial management in 1957. That same year, he entered the U.S.
Steel management training program in Pittsburgh. At that point, he made the defining
choice of his life, as he left that program to follow his heart and attend medical school.
He then embarked on a decade-long journey of medical education. He graduated
from George Washington Medical School in 1963. In 1963-1964, he completed his
surgical internship at the Boston City Hospital via Harvard Surgical Service. This was
followed by his residency in New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical
Center between 1964 and 1969. His final year there, he was chief resident and
instructor in surgery. Then came a year as fellow and associate professor of surgery
at New York University, where he specialized in vascular surgery at the Wickersham
Memorial Hospital, New York. From there, he moved to Houston, Texas, for his final
stint of medical education. He spent a year training with Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, and
then a second year with Dr. Denton Cooley. Dr. Cooley and DeBakey were the
pioneers of open heart surgery.
In 1973, Dr. Robinson moved to Pittsburgh, where he entered private practice. Above
all else, Dr. Robinson loved the operating room. That was exactly where he seemed
happiest. He excelled in high stress situations. A notorious lead-foot driver, he was on
a first-name basis with many of the police officers around Pittsburgh. It didn't matter if
he was driving the family station wagon or his black Porsche Turbo, he was usually
driving flat out, heading to an ICU or operating room at one of the many hospitals
where he attended his surgical patients. In fact, that's the best way to describe how he
lived his life. Flat out. His patients and his craft came first in his life. He rarely took
time off or vacations. He was driven to be the best surgeon he could possibly be, and
he felt any extended layoff would compromise his skills.
In lieu of vacations, he enjoyed quite a menagerie of animals in the family home. He
loved tropical fish, exotic birds and the three Russian Wolfhounds that resided with
the family. His work was his avocation. After retiring from surgery, he still felt he had
more to give as a physician. He spent the last eight years working for the
Pennsylvania Prison hospital system managing the health of countless inmates. He
felt that regardless of what brought the inmates to incarceration, they deserved the
best medical care he could offer. Brilliant. Complicated. Driven. These adjectives
described the man. He had a strict code of conduct. Friends were dear to him. He
vigorously fought injustice or unfairness where he saw it. He was notorious for
supporting persons or projects that others saw as "lost causes." He defined what
people today call "mental toughness."
He was preceded in death by his wife, Theresa R. Robinson. His older brother, Owen,
preceded him in death just last year.
His younger brother, Louis, currently resides in Virginia. He is mourned by his partner,
Sally Siegal; along with his three children, Stephen, Sharon and Christian; as well as
his two grandchildren, Shyla, and Jonathan.
As per his wishes, Dr. Robinson donated his body to science. The family is hopeful
that this contribution will help with understanding late stage cancer and work toward a
cure. In life, Dr. Robinson was intensely private.
Honoring his wishes, there will be no public memorial service.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the American Cancer Society in his