Ron Robinson, who started as an intern and rose to become chairman and CEO of marketing powerhouse Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods, now CJRW, died Tuesday in Little Rock, leaving his name on a downtown theater and his mark of mentorship on a generation of communications professionals.
A decorated Vietnam War veteran who served NASA as an Air Force captain during the moon mission era, Robinson was 75. His death was confirmed by CJRW, which described him as an “iconic figure in the Arkansas marketing and advertising community.” No cause of death could be immediately confirmed, but friends said he had been in poor health for some time.
Robinson avidly collected stamps, sheet music, film posters and all sorts of Arkansas memorabilia, and was honored in 2009 when the Central Arkansas Library System named its new venue at 100 River Market Ave. the Ron Robinson Theater.
As memorials poured forth from colleagues and proteges, including many younger professionals who went through Robinson’s intern program at CJRW, several mentioned the naming of the $10 million, 300-seat theater as a lasting tribute. Robinson was a longtime benefactor of the library.
“Ron was a fiercely intelligent, passionate force of nature and a Little Rock advertising leader the likes of whom we are not likely to ever see again,” said veteran filmmaker Gary Jones, a longtime colleague. “When Ron talked (and he did like to talk), people listened. I considered him my most valued mentor. Thank goodness the Ron Robinson Theater will be around to remind new generations of his contributions to Little Rock business and the arts.”
A Little Rock native, Robinson collected all things Arkansas-related for more than a half-century. He was hired as a 16-year-old sportswriter for the Arkansas Gazette by legendary sports editor Orville Henry, earned a journalism degree from the University of Arkansas and studied public relations at the Boston University Graduate School of Public Communications. After graduation, he received a Bronze Star for his Vietnam War service and the Air Force Commendation Medal for his work on Apollo 11, the mission that first landed men on the moon.
His award-filled career at CJRW began in 1962 when he was a college intern for Wayne Cranford and Jim Johnson and the firm was known as Cranford Johnson. After joining the agency full-time in 1970, he was promoted to director of public relations, then to president in 1986 and to chairman in 1993. He retired from daily operations in 1997.
“Ron was an iconic figure in the Arkansas marketing and advertising community,” CJRW Chairman and CEO Darin Gray said in a statement. “The leadership and direction he provided this firm in the 1980s and 1990s helped provide us with a solid foundation that helped CJRW grow into one of the largest agencies in the Southwest. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ron’s family at this most difficult time.”
In 1995, Robinson was named Arkansas Business’ Business Executive of the year for the previous year, and he served on the United States Postal Service Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee for 15 years, helping to create and produce more than 1,750 postage stamp issues. As a PR practitioner, he served Arkansas Power & Light Co. and its successor, Entergy, as well as First Commercial Corp., Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield and Alltel.
“Ron Robinson modeled what it meant to be a professional communicator,” said Chip Culpepper, principal and chief creative officer of Mangan Holcomb Partners in Little Rock, who worked with Robinson at CJRW. “He was always, thoughtful, thorough and accurate. Ron was a mentor, not only to me but to an entire generation of advertising and public relations professionals.”
Culpepper said Robinson showed him how to manage an agency filled with diverse personalities and talents. “I’m grateful for those lessons. Throughout my career, Ron was always eager to hear what I had been doing, and was quick to recognize any milestone or success.”
Another protege, Ben Beaumont, senior director of policy and public affairs for the University of Arkansas System, expressed his condolences on Twitter. “Ron was a great guy with a big heart,” Beaumont wrote. “I was proud to be part of his intern program at CJRW and to received the Ron Robinson scholarship” in the University of Arkansas’ journalism program. “He did much for many and will be missed.”
Another former CJRW intern, Clinton Presidential Center spokesman Jordan Johnson, described Robinson as a “larger than life” personality who took great interest in helping the careers of young colleagues. He said he was “proud to be a Ron Robinson CJRW alum.”
Robinson was a longtime leader of the Public Relations Society of America and board member of Friends of the Library. He was active on the Southern Regional Board of Directors of the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the national Arthritis Foundation. His civic endeavors included the United Way of Pulaski County, the Junior League of Little Rock, the Red Cross and the Little Rock Zoo. He was a trustee of the Arkansas Arts Center and handled communications for the Governor’s Commission on Childcare Development.
His professional achievements were extensive, but he was proud of being a charter member of the National Public Relations Network and a board member of the Arkansas Advertising Federation and PRSA. The Ad Federation honored him with its distinguished public service award.
Arrangements were pending on Tuesday afternoon. Robinson is survived by a son, Reid, and two granddaughters.