Photo by Jim Carroll

Photo by Jim Carroll

Hometown Hero Vicki Robin: What life’s really about

What’s the purpose of your life? Why are you here?

Sometimes finding one’s purpose is the realization of what it is not.

For Vicki Robin, she found money, VIP status, outer beauty, possessions and seeking the approval of others left her empty.

“It’s not what I pursued for myself, but when I served others that gave me meaning and fulfillment,’’ Robin said. “I believe my purpose is to be a ‘scout’ – to help others to find and share their ways to have a meaningful life within the broader context of a sustainable world. My other mission or reason for being is to help in my small way to add to the other groups that bring the community together. Wendell Berry evokes the quality of community that speaks to me. He calls it ‘membership’ and a sense of belonging, a treasure of reciprocity.”

Robin’s work with Conversation Cafes and Transition Whidbey and her 10-mile radius diet and book, “Blessing The Hands That Feed Us,” have all contributed to the community becoming closer, Clinton resident Stan Jones said.

“Albeit my wife and I do not know Vicki personally, she has made a vast impact on our lives,” he said. “Firstly, we read the New York Times best-selling book she co-authored, ‘Your Money or Your Life.’ That book caused us to ask ourselves, ‘What does really matters in our lives?’ After answering this for ourselves, we scaled back our material life and unneeded expenditures. In return, we have felt more peace and meaning and have more time for family, friends and volunteering. We watched Vicki on Oprah, Ted Talks and numerous news programs, which kept us inspired. Our now-adult children have continued the philosophy that ‘it’s what we share with others, not what we obtain in this world that brings us purpose.’”

Robin explained that her eyes were opened to the possibility of living a “finacially free life” when she met Joe Dominguez in the early 1970s. The following decade, she and Dominguez gave siminars on transforming relationship with money.

“We talked about how consumerism and getting more won’t lead to happiness,” she said. “We discussed the importance of saving money, volunteering and helping others. Since we individually had already invested our nest eggs in treasury bonds providing an income for two of us of at $1,500 a month (enough for our way of live in the 1990s), we gave all the proceeds to organizations promoting conscious consumption and simple living. We’d figured out how to live comfortably on a small amount and were not interested in making more money. We had enough. We purchased clothing and other items used. I generally wore the same dress to all our public functions. Joe and I were partners in work and life; he was both a friend and mentor, teaching me not only about money but also how to think critically and fix or build almost everything we needed.”

Just after “Your Money or Your Life” was published, Dominguez was diagnosed with a cancer that would take his life four years later. He died in January of 1997 at age 58.

Before he died he wrote a note to the world: “Joe Dominguez has been given a clean bill of death. Keep your attention on the living and the things that need to be done.”

“He didn’t want anyone to mourn or effuse him. He wanted people to take heed of our message,” Robin said. “I traveled, wrote and spoke to achieve our goal – to significantly impact society’s over-consumption. But I very much missed Joe; all the threads we had woven as partners, for three decades had to be re-woven now on my own.”

Robin put everything into sharing their message far and wide. Her goal was to motivate others to ask themselves how much money is enough and helping others find their meaning and enliven others to give and volunteer more. She did this full time until she also was diagnosed with cancer in 2004.

“I did one surgery and reluctantly a few treatments because I didn’t want to die because I’d been pig headed,” she said. “But then I quit chemo, taking on a holistic healing method.”

Robin said everyone has to find their own personal way of dealing with life’s cataclysms. She moved from Seattle to Whidbey at the encouragement of longtime friends on South Whidbey — Robert Gilman, Charlie Murphy, Rick Ingrasci and Peggy Taylor.

“I first met Vicki 13 years ago when she came to the island wanting a place to rent,” said Lynn Willeford, volunteer extraordinaire. “She came here dealing with cancer, and wanted to heal. We rented her our place that my husband and son had built. We observed what a hard worker she was and in the community. She has remained active the entire time with sustainable living for Whidbey and beyond. She never does anything for money.”

Robins said it’s a privilege to live on Whidbey.

“So many people here give of their ideas and time and good will to make life better for all,” she said. “Ideas like festivals, Time Together, fresh gardens, Greenbank solar project, environmental endeavors, Whidbey Island Local Lending, or community gatherings open to everyone. Whidbey embraces community spirit, new ideas, and global concepts, as well as the spiritual. I feel a constant companionship with God, the divine. It’s like a secret lover. It’s delicious. This doesn’t mean I can’t be at times unconscious, or screw up, but I am aiming to do what God wants me to do.”

Robin opened her arms wide, with a smile to match. Her cat, Bella jumped on her lap and she wrapped her arms around her feline friend. Robin lives in her house with two other roommates.

Ann Medlock, Founder of Giraffe Heroes Project, said Robin’s work was enriched millions of lives.

“She’s got people across the world using their time and money with integrity, and supporting farmers near them with their food-buying,” Medlock said. “What delights me about having her here in this community is that she’s also got us all laughing. The world doesn’t know that she’s a comedian, but thanks to her improv performances here, we know.’’

Asking Robin to give an example of her humor, she breaks into her New York character, Phyllis Wertzl, with a thick New York accent.

“I’m visiting from New York, and I love Whidbey island,” she said. “You know in some ways it’s very different from New York. In New York everything happens in a hurry. We are going to re-build the New York Trade Center before you all figure out the parking for the Star store. But in some ways, we are the same. You all are into local foods, and of course we are too. … We go down to the street and it’s right there.”

Returning to herself without skipping a beat, Robin said she hopes all will ask themselves how much is enough to have in this life.

“I hope no-one will shy away from being their true selves, to live out one’s individual purpose and find happiness in service,” she said.

Facts about Victoria “Vicki” Marie Robin

Born: July 6, 1945 in Okmulgee Oklahoma raised in Long Island, New York

Parent occupations: Father was a doctor and mother a psychotherapist

Siblings: Two siblings

High School: Manhasset High School, Long Island

College: Brown University, RI

Years on Whidbey: 13

Hobbies: Helping community, comedy improv, sketching, gardening, wandering aimlessly, enjoying the present moment, prayer, body dance and meditation.

South Whidbey people she admires: Dozens and dozens of generous, creative, hard-working, brilliant friends. A brief list would include Maryon Attwood and Tom Ewell for activism from the heart; George Henny, Lynn Willeford and Nancy Nordoff for above-the-call-of-duty community service; Jake and Aja Stewart, Annie Jesperson and Nathaniel Talbot for local food and homesteads; and Peggy Taylor, Rick Ingrasci, Christina Baldwin, Diana Lindsay, Judith Adams, Christine Tasseff and Larry and Sharon Daloz-Parks for feeding many South Whidbey souls.

Side quotes:

How do you handle criticism? “I am blind to my own faults so I really suck the marrow out of criticism to see if anything really needs to change.”

How do you handle compliments? “I have learned not to deflect them but rather accept them and allow me and the person offering them to feel a rosy glow.”

What qualities do you most admire in a person? “Honesty, critical thinking, sense of humor, sense of humor, a sense of service to others. I believe local people that are examples of this is are Diane Lindsay, Tom Ewell, Jimmy Scullin. Rick Ingrasci.

What inanimate object would you choose to be for a day? “A seashore and feel the ocean sliding over me.”

What is something you think people can get wrong about others? “Just because someone appears confident, passionate and on a directed path, it doesn’t mean they are invulnerable and can’t be scared and get hurt.”

Favorite song? “How we Love,” by Beth Nielson Chapman.

Favorite books? “’Everything’ by Wendell Berry. ‘The Lazy Man’s Guide To Enlightenment’ by Thaddeus Golas. ‘The Fifth Sacred Thing’ by Starhawk. ‘Island’ by Huxley.”

What is something hardly anyone knows about you? “I had minor roles in soap operas. I am fluent in Spanish and speak decent Portuguese. I built a motorcycle from a box of parts.”

What longing does your heart have? “I wish I had formed a loving companionable relationship after my other longtime relationships ended in deaths. But I’m an odd duck so it’s hard to find just the right person who’d like just what I have to offer.”

Who would you like to apologize to? “My mother, (she deceased when I was 30). My dad died when I was 13. As difficult as my mother was, had I been more mature, I would have been kinder and more understanding.”

Nine words you would choose for your epitaph? “Life is either a great adventure or it’s nothing.”

Thoughts about Vicki from locals

“Vicki Robin is a force to be reckoned with. She is one of a kind, never one like her before and never again. Vicki is the Whidbey Gadfly. She provokes us to do better, be better. She stings us into action. She leaves no stone, no rock, UN-turned. Vicki IS community. Whether she is writing about money or food, she writes to elucidate, educate, and once again, call us to action. We are so lucky. If she lived somewhere else, a piece of us would be missing.”

—Beverly Rose, thrilled to be 81 and a first-time screenwriter.

“Oh my gosh, what an easy task to write about Vicki. She is generous, she is kind, she is magnanimous, she is involved, she is a dancer, she is a guru, she is a truth teller, she is an elder, she is a Spiritual being having a human experience, she is generous with her time, with her knowledge, with her gifts, she loves cats, she loves people. She is brave, she’s an activist, she’s strong and filled with the courage of her convictions, she is honest, she is supportive of others, she gives to her community, she is a voice of reason, she cooks. She cares deeply about others, she gardens, she uses her voice for the greater good, she is practical, she knows herself, believes in herself and loves herself, she is a role model, she is a leader. I am pretty darn lucky to call her my friend.”

—Cate Andrews, friend

“Vicki is a prime example of living deeply, meaningfully, and beautifully engaged. Her creativity and energy know no bounds. She holds herself and all in her community to a high standard—- inspiring us through her words and her example to take the pressing issues of our time head-on together. Vicki doesn’t idly by, waiting for others to address the world’s woes. She’s constantly hatching innovative ways to make things better for us all.”

—Annie Jesperson, co-owner of Deep Harvest Farm and Seeds

“Vicki is an innovative thinker. Her co-authored book, ‘Your Money or Your Life’ had a profound impact on the lives of thousands of individuals. Her focus of late is on community and her approach is vivacious and hands-on—whether it’s feeding ourselves locally or breaking down barriers with ‘conversation cafes.’ Whidbey Islanders are lucky to have her in our midst.”

—Nancy Horan, a South Whidbey resident and writer

“Vicki is one of the most brilliant social entrepreneurs that I know. She is truly a kindred spirit. We’ve been friends and colleagues for decades, and she continues to amaze me with her endless flow of creative ideas about how to live in a healthy community on a sustainable planet. We take regular ‘doggie walks’ on Langley Beach mixed with great conversations about personal, social and community transformation. She is a gifted leader who continues to give generously of herself to the Whidbey community. I’m proud to be her friend.”

—Rick Ingrasci M.D., M.P.H., story dome director

“Vicki Robin is an innovator, initiator and instigator. Her profound combination of personal and intellectual energy is merged with her commitment to the common good and support for the planet. Her long-standing experience responding to community needs and then helping to develop and implement strategic plans has been a critical force recently in addressing the challenges of thwarting the Navy expansion on Whidbey. Vicki has a great exuberance and love of life that feeds her activism and spirit, and I add my great admiration and appreciation for her support of our precious Whidbey Island and the health of the planet.”

—Tom Ewell, Civility First co-founder

“I’ve known Vicki for over 35 years. She’s always been an evolutionary scout, willing to step outside the norm and experiment with her own life, whether that’s building a motor home from scratch or finding financial freedom on less money that you might imagine by knowing what is enough. What’s grown with time has been her ability to translate those personal explorations out to the wider public, as she’s shown with local food and her second pass on Your Money or Your Life. Vicki is actually a planetary hero. We’re lucky to have her in our hometown.”

—Robert Gilman, political and community volunteer

“You know those days that sometimes come along in the autumn; crystal clear true blue skies, swiftly moving white cotton ball clouds, fresh buffeting winds, birds gliding everywhere you look, ferries splashing along through legions of whitecaps. Mix the energies of that day with the attentiveness and tenacity of a squirrel. That is how I experience Vicki. I appreciate her unique energy, and admire her work. I see her as a scout; someone who moves outside of the pack to the higher ridges where the bigger picture can be seen more clearly. After attentively observing and reaching her conclusions, she advises us on ways to see things and ways to move. She is a valued friend, always with a smile and a hug. A Hometown Hero to me.”

—Jim Scullin, community volunteer actor

“Vicki has touched many many lives including my own. She has truly put ideas through her books and work to help us think differently about our piece of the puzzle. She takes the mystery out of things and asks us all to look more closely at our actions and where this leads all of us. I know her personally, as a friend. We walk together and talk, each week. I am deeply moved by who she strives to be in these times. Right now in our country, and she has found ways to meaningfully stand up for what matters. I worry that we don’t have enough people like Vicki. She thinks about the community as a whole. She lives with others closely. She understands community as an organism, we are all connected. And I treasure our conversations.”

— Sarri Gilman, LMFT and author

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