Charles Paul Robinson, a former president of Sandia National Laboratories, an associate director at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a U.S. ambassador and chief negotiator for the U.S./USSR Nuclear Testing Talks in Geneva, Switzerland, died March 2 at his home in northern Colorado. He was 81.
A physicist, Robinson had a distinguished career of more than 55 years in national security research, energy, arms control and deterrence.
Born Oct. 9, 1941, Robinson grew up in Memphis and as a child played on the same winning Little League baseball team as Tim McCarver, who later went on to became a catcher in the major leagues and then a Hall of Fame broadcaster.
A vision problem scuttled Robinson’s congressional nomination and acceptance to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Instead, he attended Christian Brothers College in Memphis, earning a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1963, followed by a Ph.D. in physics from Florida State University 1967.
He married his college sweetheart, Suzanne Stratmann, and the couple had two children, daughter Paula and son Colin. The young family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where Robinson worked at the Nevada Test Site operated by Los Alamos National Laboratory. He later transferred to the main laboratory in Los Alamos and worked in the nuclear propulsion division.
He was subsequently named the lab’s principal associate director in 1980 and was responsible for national security weapons programs, the design, development and testing of new weapons, oversight of weapons produced at U.S. production plants, and verification and arms control programs.
In 1985, Robinson departed LANL for the private sector and became senior vice president and principal scientist of EBASCO Services Inc., which designed and constructed nuclear power plants. The following year, President Ronald Reagan appointed Robinson as U.S. ambassador and chief negotiator to the U.S./USSR Nuclear Testing Talks in Geneva. He continued in that position under President George H.W. Bush.
Returning to New Mexico in 1990, Robinson worked for Sandia National Laboratories as director of systems analysis, then vice president of laboratory development and finally as president — a position he held for 10 years.
In 2008, he joined the startup company, Advanced Reactor Concepts, which focused on modular nuclear reactor development.
Robinson served as a member of the Strategic Advisory Group for the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command for 20 years, where from 1992-2005 he chaired the policy panel
Among his many awards are the Outstanding Public Service Medal from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service; and NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal for his contributions to Space Operations.
His daughter, Paula Robinson-Pradines, said her father “was a talented musician playing the trumpet throughout his youth, performing in dance bands in high school as well as leading the marching band as the drum major.”
In addition, she said, “he was a trained singer who performed with the Los Alamos Light Opera and was a founding member of the Sangre de Cristo Chorale,” where he sang in the bass section.
A “loving father,” Robinson was also a “consummate story teller with a keen sense of humor” and a penchant for telling long jokes from his vast repertoire, his daughter said.
He enjoyed coaching his kids’ youth softball and soccer teams, and was a lifelong cyclist and an avid outdoorsman, who took his family on frequent camping and hiking trips. He also shared his passion for Nordic and downhill skiing, and was delighted to see his son, Colin, “quickly surpass him in speed and elegance on the alpine slopes,” said Robinson-Paradines.
Survivors include daughter Paula, her husband, Thierry Pradines, and their son, Alexandre Pradines, all of New York; son, Colin Robinson of New Mexico and his partner, Bonnie Hoosier; second wife of 30 years, Barbara Robinson of Colorado; and ex-wife Suzanne Stratmann of Texas.