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Ed Robinson: Lifelong Naturalist

You may think you already know Ed Robinson.

After all, he is a prolific writer, whose prose on the natural world appears in books, newspapers and frequently in Harpswell Heritage Land Trust newsletters like this one. (Scroll down just a bit, if you doubt me!)

But did you know that Ed started his working life at Eastman Kodak, had a globe-spanning career with biotech and pharmaceutical companies and for years sang in barbershop quartets? Or that he’s one of a growing group that is supporting HHLT through charitable gift annuities? (More on that in a minute.)

man smiling

Ed’s knowledge of the outdoors, and the creatures found there, is voluminous and his desire to write about it started at an early age. While growing up in the Finger Lakes region of New York southeast of Rochester, Ed and his family enjoyed fishing, hunting and camping while learning the ways of nature.

But his first attempt to write about those ways — an eighth-grade story about life in and around a pond — brought an unexpected result.

“I was expelled from school!” Ed recalled with a laugh. “My English teacher and the principal thought I must have plagiarized it, which I guess is some kind of a backhanded compliment.” His father, Robert, whom Ed credits with passing down his love of the outdoors, was understandably furious. “He’s a blue-collar guy and he takes a day off from work to tell the school administrators that he knew I wrote the story. And, sure enough, they were forced to apologize and put me back in class.”

An auspicious start for a writer whose other career in marketing and management started at Kodak in 1974 after Ed graduated from Clarkson University. He spent 15 years with the company in a variety of roles. “It was a great place to work,” he said. “I also met Mary, my wife for 45 years, at Kodak.”

The couple then followed Ed’s career as an executive with various biotech companies around the world, including stops in Singapore, Mexico and Australia and 14 years in England. He said their children, Eric and Laura, benefited greatly from going to school outside London, where they moved at ages 9 and 11. “They came to realize how much more of a world there is out there,” Ed said.

When the time came to return to the US, Eric was indirectly responsible for Ed and Mary winding up in Harpswell. “Eric graduated from Bowdoin in 2007,” Ed said. “Then-Governor Angus King was a speaker at the ceremony, and he welcomed those in attendance to Maine asking, ‘Why not stay?’” It sounded like a good idea, and they decided to take a look around Harpswell. “The second house we looked at (on Orr’s Island) is where we live today,” Ed chuckled.

Putting down roots in Harpswell resulted quickly in a sense of belonging. “I came from a small town but had traveled abroad for most of my career and sometimes felt like a perpetual tourist,” recalled Ed, who is nearly 71. “The chance to become involved in our community has been fantastic for both Mary and me.”

Ed’s introduction to HHLT came through a friend, Dr. Bruce MacDougal, whose wife was in a book club with Mary. Ed served eight years on the Board of Trustees and continues to serve on the land trust’s Communications and Finance committees. But the connection with HHLT proved to be something more than a volunteer opportunity.

“At the time I joined, it was just (former executive director) Reed Coles running things with a $65,000 budget,” Ed said. He was among the board members that pushed for a marketing survey and the creation of the Forever Fund to help sustain HHLT’s operations for years to come. “That first survey led to many changes, including hiring (current executive director) Julia McLeod, which really was a game-changer,” he added.

Joining HHLT also opened doors for Ed. “It was formative in the development of my retirement plans,” he said. “It really turned into one of the most important parts of my life.”

In collaboration with the land trust, Ed has published two volumes of “Nature Notes From Maine,” and a third installment, “Nature Notes From New England,” is in the works. All the proceeds from the sale of the books benefit HHLT.

“Ed’s books have been a huge success,” said Julia McLeod about the series. “We can’t wait to see what he writes next!”

Publishing “Nature Notes” has also given Ed the opportunity to travel the state promoting the books and to meet other outdoor enthusiasts. “I’ve given more than 50 talks from Kittery to Skowhegan to Bar Harbor,” Ed said. “I love to tell stories in a way that’s personal, but also educational and entertaining.”

He’s also happy to support HHLT in other ways. Ed and Mary decided to make a substantial donation to the Forever Fund in the form of a Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA). “We decided to do this via the Maine Community Foundation, since this provides a lifetime income stream for us and a long-term benefit for HHLT upon our deaths,” he explained. (For more information about a CGA and HHLT, contact development associate Amelia Graham at development@hhltmaine.org)

When he’s not busy writing, Ed and Mary can be found enjoying “fun, fellowship and friends” in Harpswell. He came from a musical family and sang in barbershop groups for years, but now Ed says his singing is limited to the choir at the Islands Community Church on Bailey Island. “We have a richness to our lives that was missing for many years,” he said.

Ed also spends roughly 10 weeks a year recharging at his rustic cabin located on 75 acres near Ithaca, New York. The cabin is off the grid with a wood stove, outhouse and very few modern conveniences. “I love being there and conducting habitat-related projects,” he said. “And Mary is very tolerant of me being away. I think she might even prefer it!”

Ed plans to continue to explore the outdoors and to share his experiences in the hope of enticing others. “My happiest times are up high and away,” he said. “And if I can help get a few kids energized to explore the outside world, then it’s all been worth the effort.”