The ancient philosopher, scientist, and humanist Aristotle once said “There is honor in being a dog.” Given that Pat loved her dogs as children, this insight is important. But more importantly, Aristotle defined real friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics (named for his son and father). True friends aren’t friends because you are useful to each other, altough you may be so. True friends are about more than having fun, although fun is involved in friendship. Real friendship consists in the mutual care and cultivation of goodness in one another, and I believe that it is that quality that Pat Robinson shared with all of her deeply held friends.
Aristotle said, “Without friends, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; in poverty and in other misfortunes people think friends are the only refuge. It helps the young, too, to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs; those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions—‘two going together’—for with friends people are able both to think and to act.
Pat lived this definition of friendship. She cared for us seriously, guarded our prosperity, attempted to correct our youthful errors, tried to keep us from screwing up, and demanded that we take care of ourselves properly. She mobilized her friends to help each other. Her diverse friendship group is a crowdsource for all kinds of information–about the University, about state services, and many other things.
Pat could be grumpy, judmental and proud. The one virtue she lacked, one that Aristotle did not consider, was the habit of tipping waitstaff well. Also, she could hardly stay in one lane of traffic when she drove, yet had everything to say about my driving. And she was wise and loyal, demanding and constant–and she was fun.
My memories of Pat consist in glimmers of sunlight that came into the back room from the big yard behind her house in South Austin, where we would barbecue chicken badly, prepare for the fireworks, weather severe storms. With dogs. Always, we would watch sports. With dogs. Selecting and setting up the Christmas tree. With dogs. The exchange of small gifts. With dogs.
She took me to women’s basketball and softball games and filled me in reverently about all of the players—not just as athletes but as people—where they were from, whether they were getting good grades. She was proud of her “good kids.”
Here’s how she cared for me. She wanted me to slow down and live in the soft suspense of softball time, which might indeed be the feeling of living in the moment of “going together,” as Aristotle said. “Dana,” Pat said, “you need to slow down. You move too fast.” And she meant this literally and figuratively. (See above re: driving.) From our times in the yard or at the softball field to her last days, she reminded me of this lesson. When she was in nursing care, she asked to be adjusted in the bed. In a flash I was at her side and asking her to roll to one side. I pulled on her to assist. She was not entirely present, but she said, “You move too fast.” That remains her lesson for me.
I believe that Pat could spot someone who needed advice from across a crowded field. Once you proved yourself worthy, she would offer it amply.
Aristotle said, “It is natural that such friendships should be infrequent, for such people are. Such friendship requires time and familiarity, as the proverb says people cannot know each other till they have ‘eaten salt together’; nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends until each has been found loveable and been trusted by each. A wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.”
Pat took time making friends and sustaining her friendships. I don’t remember the exact occasion when we met. It was through a mutual acquaintance. Pat took me on about 17 years ago when I was going through a rough time, a divorce and a series of melodramatic relationships culminating in my marriage to my beloved Katie Feyh. But in the beginning, Katie came under Pat’s close scrutiny. Katie was among the young Pat hoped to keep from error, namely, the error of breaking my heart. Katie won Pat over, of course, and became one of the people Pat held close.
At my wedding to Katie in 2006, she arrived in classic style–crisp ivory pantsuit, burgundy blouse, dancing shoes–and a wig. Pat was battling cancer then, too. She was winning that round. And she celebrated by dancing her ass off.
Over the years Pat was a great companion—we traveled to the beach, to Houston to see art with my daughter, and to all of the breakfast joints in Austin.
She was constant in her support. She always touched base and worried if she didn’t hear back. She knew how hard her friends’ lives could be and she was always ready to lend perspective, advice, or company. She stood by me during the roughest times of my life and reminded me that I could cope. I hope that I was as true a support to her.
What I can say is this: With Pat we were better than if we went alone. Friendship is an undiminishing state of character. Pat was a character with character. She loved us well. I loved her as did we all, and these feelings are undiminished with her passing.
Let these facts be entered into evidence:
1. George Zimmerman was acquitted July 14 after chasing down and murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen. Zimmerman’s assumption was that because Trayvon was Black and wearing a hoodie, he was an “f***ing punk.” He was, after all, “no angel.”
2. Marissa Alexander, a Black woman in Florida, was sentenced July 18 to 20 years in jail for firing warning shots (not even aiming at a person) in self-defense against her abusive partner. The contrast with the Zimmerman case suggests that Alexander’s race, and perhaps the race of her spouse, determined the differential treatment and sentencing.
3. Larry Jackson, a Black resident of Austin, TX, was chased and shot in the back of the neck on July 26 by a police officer named Charles Kleinert. Today it was reported that the Austin Police Department is claiming that the shooting was an “accident”–even though Kleinert had no reason to chase, much less draw a weapon on, Jackson. (It was the third such police shooting this year.) Again, reporting suggests that one rationale for Kleinert’s actions was that Jackson, loitering near the bank, acted suspiciously, and that he had a record of committing fraud in 2003. Neither approaching a bank nor fraud is a capital crime. If a white man had pulled on the bank door, would Kleinert have given chase? I believe not–even though the persons who had robbed the bank earlier in the day were white. News reports insist that Jackson was “no angel”–as if one must either be guilty of absolutely no wrongdoing ever, or face death–but only if one is Black.
4. In Louisiana, a Black, 14-year-old girl in juvenile detention reported a guard for sexual abuse. A headline reporting her claim stated that she was no “little Miss Muffin,” suggesting that despite her age and the severely constrained capacity to determine her own actions, she consented to the sexual relationship. Prison attorneys argue that she “wanted to be raped.”
5. In many death penalty cases, evidence of innocence is overlooked after the original conviction, on the grounds that the defendant–in most cases, Black or brown–should die because they were likely criminals in any case. Indeed, TX governor Anne Richards, a Democrat who oversaw 48 executions during her time in office, commented in 1993 when refusing to grant clemency to Leonel Herrera, scheduled for execution in spite of a case for innocence: “He must be guilty of something.”
I could list dozens of other cases of police executions, death row executions, disproportionate sentencing, deafness to claims of innocence, and consistent racial profiling as warrant for the terrorizing and murder of people of color. As Michelle Alexander shows in her book The New Jim Crow, the criminalization of people of color, and especially Black men, since the civil rights movement has generated a regime of segregation and vigilantism that works through the criminal justice system. To deny someone due process–of which execution by cop (or cop-wanna-be) is the most extreme example–on the argument that because they are Black or brown renders racial minority members as less than human, as threats to an orderly society, as people guilty “of something” warranting imprisonment, violation, or death, regardless of actual innocence.
The racist backlash against those making these connections has been virulent and profound. But we must stand our ground.