Harry A. (Happy) Robinson, 97, a former director of circulation of the old Washington Times-Herald and one of "the seven dwarfs," the employes who inherited the newspaper from Eleanor (Cissy) Patterson, died of septicemia Wednesday at Georgetown University Hospital.
Mr. Robinson was born in Russia and grew up in Boston. He began his career in the newspaper circulation field by selling papers on a street corner there. Those were the days when a kid had to be tough to hold down a good newspaper corner, and by all accounts Mr. Robinson learned to hold his own.
His first job was with the old Boston Traveler. He caught the eye of William Randolph Hearst, who persuaded him to go to work for the Boston American, a Hearst newspaper. He did so well that Hearst made him a kind of circulation troubleshooter for his newspapers around the country. h
So it was that Mr. Robinson went to Chicago, where there was a circulation war characterized by violence. In his book "Cissy: The Extraordinary Life of Eleanor Medill Patterson," Ralph G. Martin wrote of Mr. Robinson: "He was a fighter with a fighter's face. An awestruck young woman reporter once asked him, 'Are you a gangster?'"
A sign of those times, perhaps, but a curious question for a man who was known as "Happy" for most of his life and who was widely known in later years for the pleasure he took in giving away money.
In 1931, Hearst helped Mrs. Patterson persuade Mr. Robinson to leave Boston, which had remained his home base, and go to work in the circulation department of The Washington Herald, which Mrs. Patterson had just taken over. When she merged that paper with The Washington Times to form The Times-Herald, Mr. Robinson ran the combined circulation operation.
But that was after Mr. Robinson had been persuaded to stay on. According to Martin, he first came here with the understanding that he would remain only six months. When the six months were up, he went back to Boston. Mrs. Patterson went up to get him. In the process, she called Hearst on the telephone and Hearst told Mr. Robinson that if he returned to Washington he would be well rewarded. Mr. Robinson said the main problem was that his wife loved Boston but hated Washington. Nonetheless, Mrs. Paterson called Mrs. Robinson and told her that the Robinsons would be retruning here.
That was the beginning of a business relationship that was to last until Mrs. Patterson died in 1948. Once Mrs. Patterson found Mr. Robinson shooting craps on the loading dock with some circulation truck drivers. Rather than firing everybody in sight, she joined the game and later gave Mr. Robinson a pair of gold dice from Tiffany's.
According to Martin's book, she regarded Mr. Robinson as a man who always told her what he thought she needed to know rather than what he thought she wanted to hear. She consulted him about personal as well as about business matters.
Near the end of her life, Mrs. Patterson decided to change her will to leave The Times-Herald to seven of her executives. They became known as "the seven dwarfs" and Mr. Robinson was one of them. "The seven dwarfs" later sold the paper to Col. Robert R. McCormick, owner of The Chicago Tribune. In 1954, McCormick sold The Times-Herald to The Washington Post.
Mr. Robinson had retired from The Times-Herald in 1950. He is credited with helping Harry Gladstein, the circulation director of The Post at that time, keep much of the Times-Herald circulation after the merger.
In retirement, Mr. Robinson, who had become a millionaire, enjoyed the chance to be generous. In a newspaper interview he gave when he was 78 years old, he said: "Listen, money never changed me. Sure, the missus and I traveled around the country and we used to go down to Florida. But I hung onto my stock and I never did go in for fancy clothes. I live and eat simply. The dividends from my stock I give away."
Mr. Robinson was a member of the International Circulation Managers Association, the Interstate Circulation Managers Association and the Touchdown Club.
His wife, the former Clara Smith, whom he married in 1917, died in 1962.
Mr. Robinson's survivors include a sister, Hannah Oppenheim of Nashua, N.H.