January 15, 2022

Death of Eleanor Robinson Announced; Naturalist, Environmental Advocate, Founder of Old Lyme’s Audubon Center; Wife of Rev. Canon Mark Robinson, Former Rector of St. Ann’s

Eleanor Gamble Perkins Robinson

OLD LYME — “Celebratory Ecology calls each of us to spend time outdoors, to observe colors, movement, presences and absence of species, and yes, to simply enjoy the bounty. We celebrate ecology and are inspired to do all within our power to protect, and learn about this essential life-giving ecosystem.”
– Eleanor Robinson at the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center opening, 2016.

Eleanor Gamble Perkins Robinson lit up the world. We mourn the death of our dear wife, mother, sister, friend, naturalist, community leader, environmental advocate, chorister, recording artist, teacher, coach, and true bright light. As her family sang “Goodnight Irene,” Eleanor died January 2, 2022 peacefully at home in Old Lyme, Conn. at the mouth of the Connecticut River. Eleanor courageously battled non-smokers lung cancer for five years.

Eleanor, or Missy to her family and friends, was born October 11, 1958 to John and Eleanor Perkins and was raised in Long Island, N.Y., where her curiosity and respect for the natural world took shape. She was often found in the intertidal zones and the coastal nature preserves, studying the creatures of the water, land, and sky. Her delight and wonder for birds began on the shores of Long Island, but ultimately brought her to extreme parts of the world: the Amazon Rainforest, where she banded birds with the World Wildlife Fund; British Columbia, where she researched pelagic birds with the Natural History Museum; and the outer islands of New England and Canada, where she documented migratory bird behaviors as a resident naturalist.

From a young age, she was hungry for adventure and exploration. Alongside her older brother Brad, she spent summers in the Adirondack Mountains, climbing peaks and paddling rivers. At the age of 11, she was one of the youngest girls to summit all 46 of the high peaks over 4,000 feet, fostering a lifelong love for the mountains. Of all the woodland hikes, campfires, and nights spent under the stars throughout her life, she was most proud of the 14,411-foot ascent up Mount Rainier in 2009 with the American Lung Association, to honor her brother Brad, who died of brain cancer in 2008.

Eleanor’s professional life was driven by an unwavering passion for the wonders of the natural world. She met her lifelong mentor, noted conservationist Thomas Lovejoy, while receiving a B.S. in botany and zoology at the University of Washington. This launched a career in conservation and advocacy, sending her at young age to work Peru and Brazil, Woods Hole, Boston University – where she received her Master’s in Scientific Journalism – and then Washington, D.C. in the 1990s. A prolific writer and resolute environmentalist, she was at the helm of campaigns for the Smithsonian Institute and World Wildlife Fund, introducing the public to the then-fledgling matter of “climate change.” Her dedication spread from the halls of the Capitol into teaching middle- and high school classrooms, where she shared her natural curiosity with young and inspiring minds.

After moving to Old Lyme in 2012, she found herself in the ecological hotspot of the Connecticut River Estuary, which she deemed to be the Amazon Delta of the East Coast. It became her final classroom. In honor of the renowned ornithologist, artist, educator, and former resident of Old Lyme, Roger Tory Peterson, she founded an Audubon Center in Old Lyme, a pilot environmental education program that began out of the trunk of her green Mini Cooper. With no physical center yet established, she hauled teaching materials including maps, microscopes, and binoculars that dangled from the headrest. Today, the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center is a thriving STEM institution serving 15 area towns and the city of New London. Its educational programs reach more than 4,000 children and families annually.

At the center of her life was her family. Her husband, Mark K. J. Robinson first spotted her at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, MA, where she worked as the Director of Media Relations at Massachusetts Audubon Society. Mark’s “Newfy sweater,” a garment iconic and endemic to Newfoundland, caught her attention. They bonded over time spent in northeastern Canada; Mark doing missionary work and Eleanor teaching at the Quebec Labrador Foundation. Over 35 years of marriage, they raised three daughters on the Calvary Church campus in Stonington, Conn., where Mark was the Rector. Together, they founded the Calvary Church Nursery and Calvary Music schools and traveled the world, making homes in South Africa, Uganda, Washington, D.C., Ohio, and Connecticut.

Eleanor overflowed with creative energy and a love for movin’, groovin’, and making music. From her childhood to her final vacation in Park City, Utah this past Christmas, she carried her ukulele in tow. While at Miss Porter’s School (’76) she arranged music and sang in the acapella group and throughout her life, continued to pen songs, limericks, and ditties that brought the young and the old together. Her music filled church halls, community centers, living rooms, and backyards, where her second soprano voice could be heard in choirs, bands and ensembles. While raising three young girls, she launched “Sweet Beats,” a business which inspired intergenerational music and movement making for babies, children and families. In true Eleanor spirit, when she tore her ACL coaching lacrosse, she spent her recovery writing and recording two albums of original songs for singing families (available under “Eleanor Robinson” on Spotify, Amazon and iTunes).

Eleanor would often say she lived a hundred lives. That might have been an underestimate. We remember her for her vibrant spirit, humor, love, and light. We are called to action by her vision for harmony between people and their environment. And we commit to the completion of the legacy she left.

In the words of her friend and fellow environmentalist, “As I sit overlooking Great Island on the Connecticut River Estuary, I think of Eleanor’s love of this little piece of nature – her encyclopedic knowledge of everything from butterflies to ospreys; her profound reverence for the land and the regenerative cycles of spring, summer, fall, and winter… We have lost a great champion of life and nature – but she has endowed [us] not just with wonderful memories and wisdom, but perhaps more importantly she leaves [us] with a set of impossibly high standards to follow – on how to live life to the fullest, how to face adversity with unimaginable courage, and how to spread joy with all you meet.”

Eleanor was predeceased by brother, Bradford Perkins of Seattle, Wash. and her father John Perkins of Essex, Conn. She is survived by her husband, The Rev. Canon Mark K.J. Robinson; her daughters Sewell, Frances, and Florence; her son-in-law Sam Bourneuf; Sewell and Sam’s daughter Eleanor “Ebbie”; her mother Eleanor Perkins; and her brother John Perkins.

A private burial service will take place with her family next week and a celebration for the public will take place Saturday, April 23, 2022 at 2:00 pm at St. James Episcopal Church in New London, CT. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in memory of Eleanor to Connecticut Audubon – Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center (https://www.ctaudubon.org/rtpecdonate/).

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