Even though we know better, we still harbor this expectation that people who reach a near-legendary status will live forever.
Wiggie Robinson celebrated his 85th birthday last month. The well-known and always ingratiating Maine Guide told me on his birthday that he was “shooting for 100.” A vital man of boundless energy, I thought he just might make it.
He didn’t. My friend, the Baron of the West Branch, died unexpectedly while working in his flower garden at his camp on the West Branch of the Penobscot River. Joyce, his wife of 60 years, found him. It was her birthday, and Wiggie had picked some flowers for her that day.
I first met Wiggie when I worked for the Maine Fish and Wildlife Department. I had heard of the legendary Maine guide, but we had never shaken hands. When we did, on the porch of his camp, I knew right then that I was in the company of somebody very special.
We hunted and fished and picked wild mushrooms together. I finally convinced him to write a monthly column for the Northwoods Sporting Journal. At the urging of my boss, Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Bucky Owen, Wiggie and I began to co-host a Sunday night outdoor talk program, Maine Outdoors. Wiggie, like me, loved radio, and never stopped being impressed by somebody recognizing his voice wherever he went. Every Sunday night I introduced him as the Baron of the West Branch. He loved it!
But my fondness for Wiggie Robinson goes far beyond a professional relationship. He was the dearest and best kind of a friend who you could ever hope for. He was, and will always be, an inspiration, a role model for how to live life. He was a gentle man and a gatherer – a gatherer of friends and a gatherer of wild things to eat: grouse, woodcock, venison, trout, mushrooms, wild cranberries, you name it. Despite his gentle manner, Wig was a person with strong opinions and a will to be heard, especially about fishing slot limits and the abbreviated woodcock season. Always warm and witty, full of energy and optimism, he was a wonderful companion in a canoe or a turkey blind. Boston Globe writer Tony Chamberlain wrote that Wiggie looked, moved and thought like a man 20 years younger. His life motto, once disclosed to another writer, was, “stay active, live healthy, and never stop doing what you love.”
Wiggie’s contribution to the Maine outdoor community is a legacy. He did much more than guide hunters and anglers. Everybody he met became his friend. He got involved. He served for years on the guide’s examining board, was chairman of the Fish and Wildlife Advisory Council, and was an instigator of various sportsmen organizations, including SAM, Millinocket Fin & Feather Club, Maine Trappers Association, Maine Bird Dog Club and many others.
His favorite trout fly, the Maple Syrup, is nearly as famous as he is in Katahdin Country.
The day after Wiggie passed away at camp, I spent some quiet moments at his woods place, walking around and feeling Wiggie’s presence. Joyce knew that I wanted to do something to help, so she let me go up and shut off the gas. It’s little wonder that he spent so many hours of his life there. The view of Katahdin and the river is spectacular. And you should see his vegetable gardens!
Most of us don’t have a say on how or when we depart this life, but for all the loss we feel, it is comforting to know that Wiggie went out the way he probably would have wanted – with his boots on working in his gardens on a spectacular June day in the shadow of that big mountain.
We’ll miss the Baron of the West Branch. But, we can always be grateful for his friendship and his uncommon capacity to let his love shine through.
V. Paul Reynolds is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WCME-FM 96.7) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is email@example.com.