Robin Boyes: ‘The heart must be moved’

Robin was brilliant. That’s the first thing to know and remember.

The second thing to know is this isn’t an obituary, where you list facts like the dates a person was born, where they lived and when they died. I’ve written plenty of obituaries for newspapers. This is different. It’s about what Robin meant to me, to his coworkers and the lawmakers he helped.

And we all agree on this: he was brilliant.

I’d bet my house there are fewer than five people on the planet with as much knowledge about speech coaching, speechwriting and Greek rhetoric.

Four, now that he’s gone.

He translated ancient and obscure texts from Greek into English on his website, which we kid around he wrote in machine code. (Visit classicpersuasion.org to see his work.)

Except we’re not really kidding. Robin did things like that.

Because he could.

Because he felt like it.

And for almost twenty years, he taught me everything I know about speechwriting and rhetoric as we worked together in the House of Representatives.

This place was his home, and we were his family. That’s how he treated staff and lawmakers alike: like brothers and sisters in arms, working for a noble cause.

And in Robin, you could see the nobility of it.

He didn’t work here for so many years because of the money. State workers don’t get rich, and Robin could have made a lot more if he’d stayed in the private sector, flying across the nation to do speechwriting and coaching.

He stayed here to make a difference. This wasn’t something he said out loud. It was something you saw, every day, when he popped in your office to talk over a speech he was sweating over.

And he sweated them. He’d bug a lot of us about the latest oped or speech. Day after day. I used to make him swear at me by writing a bad first draft of an oped in ten minutes, just to show him the merits of turning his giant brain off and getting some words on paper without driving himself mad. Didn’t matter if they were perfect. Just get some clay to work with.

Robin wasn’t like that. He wanted perfection on the first draft. Maybe it took him a full week, but by God, that first draft was beautiful.

We wrote a booklet together on rhetoric and speeches, a guide for lawmakers and staff. There’s a line from Robin that still resonates in me every day, when I walk into my office, which was Robin’s before he retired: “Before statistics to prove, the heart must be moved.”

Robin swore by that. Despite his addiction to data and numbers, he never forgot that if you didn’t move your audience to care, the finest statistics and facts would have zero impact.

The heart must be moved.

He was stubborn and prickly, generous to a fault and always, always thinking of how to fix the latest problem. If he didn’t pop into your office to talk about his latest speech or oped, he’d stand in the doorway and sigh until you stopped banging on the keyboard to turn your chair.

Then he’d ask, as if we were already in the middle of a conversation, “What are we going to DO?”

And of course you had to ask what he was talking about, which was always a problem facing the state or the nation.

That was his instinct. No matter how many years he’d worked in politics, he’d never gotten the memo about becoming cynical or selfish.

“What are we going to do?”

He wanted to fix things. Every day.

There are special quirks unique to him: when lawmakers weren’t in town and we didn’t have to wear suits, Robin always, always wore a Beatles baseball cap. We joked that when suits and ties were required and hats verboten, Robin got a haircut once a year, whether he needed it or not.

Despite his prowess with programming in Java and working with computers, he still called making copies “photostats.”

If he said something particularly witty, which happened often, he’d do this thing with the palm of his hand and his mouth that made a loud pop. His version of an exclamation point, or dunking the rhetorical basketball.

Nobody in the office has figured out how to replicate that Robin pop. We’ve tried. Dan Frizzell comes close, but he’s not quite there.

I miss that noise.

I miss Robin’s intensity. It was his weak spot and the source of his strength. He focused on things. Obsessed about them, really. And it’s hard to be truly great at something you don’t care about and don’t spend time working on.

Robin took the time. He put in the work, and it showed. When he was a college debate coach, his team won the national championship.

When he taught me rhetoric, I soaked up more from him in a day than any of my years doing speech and debate. The man’s brain was sharper than a Ginsu.

He was easy to tease because he cared. Robin may have weighed 100 pounds after getting caught in a rainstorm, but that small frame packed a giant brain and an even bigger heart.

Another thing to know about Robin was his loyalty. Earning it wasn’t easy. He didn’t get impressed by many people. If you were his friend, or one of the lawmakers he wrote for that he truly clicked with, that relationship was for life.

Now he’s gone, and if this were an obituary, there’d be a lot of nonsense about funeral arrangements and donating to Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the American Cancer Society—but this isn’t an obituary, so I don’t have to pack it with all that dry nonsense.

Here’s the thing: Robin was larger than life and now he’s gone. That sucks.

The heart is moved, and this one hurts.

I wish we’d been a little tougher in trying to get him to socialize after he retired. I wish we could have more time together, to bullshit and learn and tease each other.

I wish.

And I know wishes along with $4.50 will buy you a latte.

The only way to honor the man is to remember him.

So here’s to you, Robin.

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