Remembering Robby Robertson
The walls of the Robertson family’s house in Andover are lined with pictures of better days. Every photo shows Robby and Catharine Robertson and their four girls — Maddy, Ella, Lexi and Delilah — with big smiles on their faces. But these pictures don’t tell the story of how this family had to deal with Robby’s leukemia diagnosis, the months of treatments and hospitalizations and his eventual passing in May 2019. They also don’t show how the Winchester Hospital community rallied around this family in the toughest time of their lives.
Reliving these memories is tough for Catharine, vice president of physician services at Winchester Hospital. “This was two years ago,” she said, pointing to a picture of Lexi, Delilah and Robby at their school’s father-daughter dance. “This was last year,” she said, pointing to a picture of her with Lexi and Delilah. “Robby couldn’t go because he was immunocompromised. So, I went. I was the father at the father-daughter dance.”
While Robby underwent cancer treatments, the Winchester Hospital community stepped up to help. They brought food, they stayed with the girls while Catharine was busy and they sent cards and notes to let them know they weren’t alone. And they formed a team, the WinWalkers, to walk in Robby’s memory in the 2019 Lahey Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run last June. The more than 60 team members raised more than $37,000 to help cancer patients at the hospital.
Robby, a “gentle giant”
Robby Robertson started as a facilities manager at Winchester Hospital 25 years ago, rising to become Lahey Health’s senior vice president of facilities.
“He was larger than life,” said Stacey Scott, director of Winchester Physician Associates and WinWalkers team captain. And that’s not just a metaphor. Hospital President Rick Weiner described him as a “gentle giant” whose interactions with others were always incredibly civil and friendly.
“He was an advocate for facilities and infrastructure and how important that is,” said Paul Cantrell, vice president of Facility Operations for the legacy Lahey Health system. “And he was always there to listen.”
Robby and Catharine met on the job, and as their relationship progressed, Robby’s devotion to Winchester Hospital never dimmed. Catharine recalled their early dates: “He would literally drive me around to different Winchester Hospital buildings and check things, make sure the lights were off. That was the first part of the date and then we would go out to dinner.”
The WinWalkers come together
During his tenure at Winchester and Lahey, Robby had amassed a huge Rolodex of contacts who became friends. They were all eager to make the WinWalkers successful.
Joseph Tarby III, a Winchester Hospital board member, reached out to businesses and vendors he and Robby had worked with, and the donations started rolling in. “They said, ‘We’ll do anything for Robby,’” Tarby recalled. “We felt that would lift up his spirits and it did.” The WinWalkers were the second-highest fundraising team in 2019, and they plan to repeat their performance in 2020.
Sadly, Robby didn’t live to see the 5K, but Catharine and the girls still wanted to participate. So the WinWalkers hit the course in force. “My thought was, ‘If Catharine can do this, I can do it,’ ” Stacey said.
In memory of Robby
On race day, June 22, the team assembled on the field at Burlington High. “We were sad because we were hoping he would’ve been there,” Catharine said, wiping away a tear as she remembered posing with the team for a photo. “It was somewhat overwhelming, but also very uplifting. It felt very good that so many people rallied behind him.”
What would Robby think of the WinWalkers and all the funds raised in his name? His friends say he was modest. He wouldn’t want it to be about him. Catherine says he would have said, simply, “thank you.”
Want to help other cancer patients like Robby? Learn more about the Virtual 2020 Lahey Cancer Institute 5K Walk & Run.