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David Robinson Jr. ’50

David Robinson Jr. ’50 with sisters Jan Robinson Stevens ’44 (front) and Dorothy Robinson Freedman ’49

March 29, 2020, in McLean Virginia, of congestive heart failure.

David Robinson was a professor of law at George Washington University for nearly four decades and a former prosecutor who once argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

He was a native of the Irvington neighborhood of Portland, and his father, also David Robinson, was a prominent public defender and organizational executive who served as assistant national director of the Anti-Defamation League during World War II.

Following in the footsteps of his mother, Edna Shainwald Robinson ’18, and his sisters, Janice Robinson Stevens ’44 and Dorothy Robinson Freedman ’49, David chose to attend Reed because, as his sister Dorothy said, “If you wanted to play, you went to the University of Oregon. If you wanted to study, you went to Reed.”

At Reed, David became best friends with Walter Mintz ’50, who later served for 33 years on Reed’s Board of Trustees. The two men, who remained close until Walter’s death in 2004, shared a Jewish background. They loved to chant: “Aleph, bet, gimmel, daled, Reed college boys are really solid! They play football, they play soccah, they keep matzah in their lockah!”

Majoring in philosophy, David wrote his thesis, “A Study of C.L. Stevenson’s Ethical Writing,” with Prof. Ed Garlan [philosophy 1946–73]. Following graduation, he pursued a law degree at Columbia University and then moved back to Oregon to clerk for Justice Hall S. Lusk on the Oregon Supreme Court. He then began a career as a criminal prosecutor, serving first in the district attorney’s office for Multnomah County, rising to the post of chief criminal deputy district attorney, and then as an assistant U.S. attorney in Portland. During this period, he met and married his first wife, Esther Hyatt Wender ’59.

Deciding to pursue a career in teaching, David moved to Boston to become a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School. That led to a job as a professor at George Washington University Law School, where he taught criminal law, criminal procedure, and evidence—a position he would hold for 38 years. He also served as a consultant to the National Commission on Reform of Federal Criminal Laws and was, for five years, a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In 1968, David appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court as the attorney for the state of Texas in the case Powell v. Texas. He successfully argued that chronic alcoholism is not a defense against public intoxication laws.

Following David and Esther’s divorce in 1968, he remained a devoted father to their two children, Daniel and Sara, seeing them often and taking them for month-long summer trips to the beaches of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

One afternoon in the late ’60s, David chased after his dog into a conference room, where he found him in the lap of Lilien Filipovitch, a native of Yugoslavia and a professor of art history at GWU. David and Lilien married in 1974.

In addition to a passion for dogs, David and Lilien shared an interest in the literature, art, politics, and culture of eastern Europe. Together, they led several study tours of the former Soviet Union, where David taught Soviet law and Lilien taught Russian history and art.

David also loved to work with tools and engaged in building projects. In the early 1990s, he and his son Dan built a substantial bridge across a creek running through the backyard of his McLean home. The bridge is still standing.

David is survived by his wife, Lilien, his daughter, Sara, and his sister, Dorothy.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2020

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