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F. Willard Robinson Class of '42

F. Willard Robinson Class of '42

Ninety-two years young and still going strong, Dr. F. Willard "Robbie" Robinson '42, MS '49, PhD '58 has deep roots in the Trojan Family. By Robinson’s own conservative estimate, more than 100 members of his family have attended USC — starting with his grandparents, who met as students in the university’s first class.

A decorated World War II fighter pilot, revered educator and published author, Robinson spent 32 years researching and writing a two-volume family history stretching back to Jamestown, America’s first permanent English colony. According to Robinson, his family’s ties to USC actually began with his great-grandparents, who were involved in the founding of the university.

“My maternal grandfather Wesley Burnett was a wealthy San Luis Obisbo County landowner who helped finance the establishment of USC,” says Robinson. “He promised my great-grandmother, who died tragically at the age of 48, that he’d send their two sons and daughter (my grandmother Rosamund) to USC. They all married other USC students.”

Although his father attended USC, Robinson says “he wasn’t expected” to study at the family alma mater. Nevertheless, he enrolled in USC on a full scholarship in 1937, but left at the end of his sophomore year “to live off the land in Alaska.” Winter brought an end to Robinson’s Alaskan wilderness adventure; he began classes at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and was recruited for the Civil Aeronautics Authority’s pilot training program. In June 1940, Robinson became the first government-trained pilot in the Territory of Alaska. A year later, he returned to USC with a renewed sense of purpose.

“I didn’t have any money — I’d lost my scholarship — so I took a night shift job at Douglas Air Force in Long Beach and drove back and forth to take classes. The morning after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, I applied to become a U.S. Navy flyer.”

Robinson was one of 15 USC students selected for flight training; a group picture appeared in both the Daily Trojan and the Los Angeles Times, under the headline “Trojan Navy Flight Squadron Goes to War.”

During the war Robinson served two tours of duty, which he recounts in his 2001 memoir, Navy Wings of Gold. After the war, he returned to USC on the GI Bill to earn both his master’s in education and a doctorate in educational administration and philosophy. In 1959, he became the principal of Beverly Hills High School, thanks in part to a recommendation from then USC School of Education dean Irving Melbo.

“Dean Melbo assured me that USC would be behind me,” Robinson says. “I thought that was an amazing thing for a USC dean to do.”

Since retiring from his job at Beverly High in 1976, Robinson has kept busy; in addition to Navy Wings of Gold and his family history, he wrote Beverly Hills Principal (1999). And while he hasn’t been to campus in years, Robinson gets updates from the newest Trojan in his clan: granddaughter Anna Burger, Class of 2014.

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