About the Collection
William Oliver Robinson
by Jeffrey S. Hardy
William Oliver “W. O.” Robinson was born 24 January 1876 in Farmington, Davis County, Utah, to Joseph E. Robinson and Dorothy Watson, the second of fourteen children. He was baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) on 27 July 1884. W.O. received his secondary education from the Latter-day Saints College in Salt Lake City, graduating from that institution in 1896. Also in his youth he began courting another native of Farmington, his second cousin Lucy Areta Clark. They decided to postpone their wedding, however, until after Robinson completed a mission for the LDS Church.
William was called to serve in the Western States Mission and left home in March 1897. After arriving at headquarters in Denver, Colorado, he was assigned to Colorado Springs and its surrounding area, a newly-opened area to LDS proselytizing. He found much opposition to his message here; one evening he noted that “insult after insult has been heaped upon us tonight.”1 Robinson and his companions traveled in the traditional missionary style “without purse or scrip,” and many times went to bed hungry when no one would provide them with dinner. Hard work and dedication, however, resulted in a few convert baptisms, for which he expressed gratitude: “Again Father I thank thee that thou has blessed me to be thy humble instrument in helping to bring another soul to thee.”2 On 22 October 1897 W. O. was called to preside over the newly-formed Trinidad Conference and he later assumed the presidency of the Durango Conference. After two years of missionary service in Colorado he returned home to Utah.
Soon after his mission W.O. married his sweetheart Lucy on 5 June 1899; their happy union was blessed with seven children. Lucy would later say of him, “If all men were like him there wouldn’t be any divorces or unhappiness.”3 He began working for a local mercantile establishment, but soon bored of this occupation and decided to continue his studies. Robinson furthered his education at the University of Chicago where he earned a special certificate in speech in 1905. He then enrolled in the American Conservatory of Music and received his collegiate degree in 1909, whereupon he obtained a music and public speaking professorship at the Brigham Young College in Logan, Utah. He also participated in the Rotary Club while living in Logan.
Having a passion for recreation and children, W.O. obtained a degree from the National Playground and Recreation School, located in Chicago, in 1922. Thereafter he worked as a recreational supervisor for Logan City for one year before obtaining a similar municipal position in Pocatello, Idaho. In 1923 his expertise was noted by the LDS Church, which hired him to work with the recreational department of the Mutual Improvement Association. In this capacity he introduced the Gold and Green Balls that became widespread throughout the Church and also a Church-wide dance festival. He also wrote several articles and pamphlets, and a book called The Church and Recreation: A Brief Resume. In Salt Lake City his love for the performing arts continued to develop and he composed many musical and theatrical works, including operas and dramatic musicals. He helped to write the pageant performed to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Church in 1930 and became a member of the Utah Academy of Arts and State Dancing Masters’ Association.
Both W.O. and Lucy were blessed with great longevity and for their seventieth wedding anniversary they wrote a book appropriately titled Seventy Years Married. Lucy died two years later on 10 May 1971, but W. O. remained active and alert for an additional eight years. During his 100th year Robinson recited Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar from memory twenty-six times for various audiences. William Oliver Robinson passed away at the age of 103 on 6 May 1979 in Bountiful, Davis County, Utah.
1 William O. Robinson, “Journal, 1897,” 7 April 1897. MSS 1848, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
2 Robinson, Journal, 1897,” 25 September 1897. MSS 1848, LTPSC.
3 “Seventy Years Married.” MSS 1958, LTPSC.
Ancestry World Tree Project. Provo, Utah: MyFamily.com Inc., 2003. 12 April 2004 available from http://www.ancestry.com/trees/awt/main.htm.
Jenson, Andrew. Latter-Day Saint Biographical Encyclopedia: A Compilation of Biographical Sketches of Prominent Men and Women in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Vol. 1. Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson Historical Co., 1901-1936.
Robinson, William O. “Papers, 1897-1976.” MSS 1848, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
________. “Papers, 1969-1978.” MSS 1958, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University.
Simmons, Ralph B. Utah’s Distinguished Personalities: A Biographical Directory of Eminent Contemporaneous Men and Women who are the Faithful Builders and Defenders of the State. Salt Lake City: Personality Publishing Company, 1933.