Skip to main content

Dennis Robinson, Globe and Mail photographer, later Photo Editor. undated.The Globe and Mail

Dennis Robinson, whose vast portfolio of photographs captured a panoramic sweep of Canada's history in the late 20th century, died on Monday at a long-term care home in Toronto. He was 72.

Mr. Robinson took hundreds of pictures for The Globe and Mail during his 37 years at the newspaper. Working mostly in black and white, he was the quintessential news photographer, equally comfortable chronicling bodybuilders and royalty.

His knack for putting people at ease and his technical skill behind the lens helped him produce some of this country's most iconic images. He caught a tender moment between Wayne Gretzky and his father, Walter, in 1971, long before the hockey legend became known as The Great One; a glamorous and slightly flirtatious opera singer Maureen Forrester clad in mink; and a supremely confident Conrad Black, looking at age 36 every bit the business tycoon.

Mr. Robinson travelled to many assignments in one of The Globe's bright orange cars – before the paper changed its corporate colour to a more sedate grey – covering everything from political leadership conventions to the Toronto Blue Jays to Pope John Paul II's visit to Canada.

A highlight of his career was covering the Montreal Olympic Games in 1976, recalled his son, David. Another was joining the Snowbirds on one of their aerobatic flights. Mr. Robinson was a bit of a daredevil himself. He tried bungee jumping when it was all the rage and also enjoyed parasailing.

"He thrived on the tough assignments," said Dave Langford, a former Globe photo editor. Mr. Robinson was one of the first photographers to arrive at the scene of the Mississauga train derailment in 1979. While his wife, Katharine, and three children fled their Mississauga home as part of a mass exodus, Mr. Robinson grabbed his camera and ran in the other direction. His photo capturing the explosion that sent flames flashing across the sky ran on the front page of The Globe.

Mr. Robinson joined the paper in 1962, after high school, in an era when many photographers learned their craft on the job. He grew his signature Abe Lincoln beard to look older and be taken seriously, his son said.

Dennis Robinson's own father, Harold, was also a long-time photographer at The Globe and his only son always wanted to follow in his footsteps. His sister, Marion Woodcock, said he was constantly taking pictures with his father's camera and helped his father build the family home in Thornhill, north of Toronto, including a darkroom in the basement.

Mr. Robinson began his career as a darkroom technician at The Globe, transforming canisters of 35-millimetre film into pictures. He quickly graduated to full-time photographer, only to be briefly sidelined to the photo desk in 1972 after he broke his leg playing hockey.

Mr. Robinson joined the desk permanently in the 1980s, first as assistant photo editor and then in 1988 as photo editor, helping groom a new generation of photographers and presiding over the transition to digital pictures.

Globe deputy photo editor Roger Hallett said he was an intern photographer when Mr. Robinson assigned him to cover Nelson Mandela's high-level visit to Canada in 1990. His photo ran on the front page.

"Dennis gave me a break," he said.

Graham Bezant, a former freelance photographer for The Globe, said Mr. Robinson took him "under his wing" when he immigrated to Canada in 1965. The two became close friends and Mr. Bezant and his wife, Dianne, were on hand when Mr. Robinson's first son, David, was born.

Mr. Robinson was somewhat legendary for his newsroom dining habits. He began every day with a bacon-and-tomato sandwich from The Globe cafeteria and snacked on French fries doused in vinegar each afternoon.

He retired from The Globe in 1999. In 2010, he began to be afflicted with a form of dementia and spent the last four years of his life in a long-term care home.

The illness was particularly cruel for someone renowned for his prodigious memory. No one in his family could beat him at Trivial Pursuit, his son said, and he remembered much of the Latin he learned in high school.

Mr. Robinson leaves behind his wife, Katharine, of nearly 50 years, his three children – David, Karen and Douglas – and six grandchildren.