Frank E. Robins III, former publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat and a longtime Conway business and civic leader, died Saturday, Aug. 29, 2009, at home.
Mr. Robins, 80, retired in 1994 after 35 years as owner-publisher of the newspaper, bringing to an end four generations of family ownership of Faulkner County’s oldest business.
A lifelong Conway resident, Mr. Robins was born Dec. 27, 1928, a son of Frank E. Robins Jr. and Virginia Warren Robins. A graduate of Conway High School in 1945, he attended Arkansas State Teachers College and graduated in 1949 with a degree in music from Hendrix College. He was a member of First United Methodist Church in Conway, where he was a member of the Dorothy Robins Light Sunday School Class and a pianist for the class. Previously he was a pianist for the Men’s Bible Class at First United Methodist Church. He recently received the Arkansas Press Association Distinguished Service Award in July of 2009. Mr. Robins had previously served as the Arkansas Press Association President in 1974. He was a member of both the Conway High School and Arkansas State Teachers College football teams. He was a member of Sigma Tau Gamma Fraternity, and received the Sigma Tau Gamma Laney Award in 2007. He was also a member of the Arkansas Woodworker’s Society.
Mr. Robins was an Air Force veteran of the Korean War, achieving the rank of second lieutenant. His civic and professional achievements are many, including having served 23 years on the Conway Corp. Board of Directors, the last 21 of those as its chairman. He served on Conway’s first Planning Commission in the early 1950s and on the Oak Grove Cemetery Association Board in the 1960s. He also served on the University of Central Arkansas Foundation Board and helped establish the Faulkner County Museum. He was a past president of the Conway Rotary Club and served on the boards of First State Bank and Trust Co. and Worthen National Bank of Conway.
Long recognized as a state and regional leader in journalism circles, Mr. Robins was a former president of the Arkansas Press Association, and served as director from Arkansas and chairman of one of six standing committees of the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association. He was a former member of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi.
Mr. Robins is survived by his wife, Dorothy O’Neal Robins; a daughter, Laura Robins Falls of Conway; a sister, Mary Virginia Ferguson of Boxley (Newton County); and a grandson, Nathan Thomas Falls of Conway.
Graveside services will be at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Crestlawn Memorial Park in Conway by Roller-McNutt Funeral Home. Memorial services will be at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at First United Methodist Church in Conway, with the Rev. Charles Murry officiating.
Pallbearers will be Nathan Thomas Falls, John B. Gardner, Roger Mills, Stan Allison, Earl Rogers Jr. and James Isom. Honorary pallbearers will be Dr. William Roberts, Dr. Michael Stanton, Dr. David Lipschitz, Eddie Hubach and the Dorothy Robins Light Sunday School Class of the First United Methodist Church.
The family would like to invite the employees, both past and present, of the Log Cabin Democrat to sit in a special area behind the family at the memorial service.
Mr. Robins had the deserved reputation of being a meticulous man who appreciated details, and that reputation and determination carried over into what was to become the award-winning Log Cabin Democrat, one of the most respected small-town daily newspapers in Arkansas.
"My philosophy is that you have to watch the small things," Mr. Robins told the Arkansas Publisher magazine in 1985. "We work hard to achieve a good product and that comes from eternal vigilance."
He told the magazine that one of the things of which he was most proud was the product his staff put out and the service the paper provided the community. "We put extra demands on our staff, and they always come through."
Mr. Robins was once described in a newspaper article as a Renaissance man: a publisher, a pilot, printer, pianist, teacher, inventor, duck hunter, historian, mechanic, duck caller and woodworker. In previous years, he was a board president, scratch golfer, Sunday school teacher, military officer, Boy Scout leader and a football player.
In 1994, he received the Conway Area Chamber of Commerce Distinguished Service Award. In presenting the award, Chamber President Bill Hegeman cited examples of Mr. Robins’ involvement in community affairs, such as the preservation of Faulkner County history, construction of a veteran’s memorial at the Faulkner County Courthouse and the promotion of the annual Toad Suck Daze festival.
That same year, when he announced his impending retirement, Mr. Robins reflected on his tenure as publisher:
"The privilege that I have had in directing this newspaper for most of my adult life has been immeasurable. My family’s involvement in the Log Cabin Democrat goes back a hundred years, and I would hope history would be kind and view me as a good steward.
"I’d also like to believe that this newspaper has made a difference in the daily lives of our readers and advertisers. We have been staunch supporters of Faulkner County and Conway, and we’ve always taken positions we believe have been in the best interests of the area.
"Whatever we have become as a newspaper, it has been because of strong, dedicated people who have believed their role in this business has been to serve the community. Without them, little could have been accomplished. When I look back on where I came from, and who I made the journey with, it’s just been a fantastic experience."
The Log Cabin Democrat traces its history to July 1879, when Able F. Livingston came to Conway from Illinois and founded a newspaper. Livingston had been a member of the old Whig Party, and even though the party was gone then, he chose the Log Cabin — the symbol of the Whig Party — as the name for his newspaper and named Charlie Cox its first editor.
In the early 1880s, Livingston moved to Morrilton to edit the Star, and his brothers-in-law, Zol and T. M. Woods, continued to publish the Log Cabin. In March 1885, J.W. Underhill became part owner. Livingston had created the newspaper as a Republican weekly, but when Underhill assumed control from the Woods brothers in the late 1880s, he turned it into a Democratic Party newspaper.
On Jan. 1, 1894, Underhill and J.W. Robins, who owned a sawmill, decided to trade businesses. The deal was completed on a creek bank and was the beginning of an almost unbroken succession of Robins family ownership. One of Robins’ reasons for obtaining the newspaper was to provide his son, Frank, with the educational environment of a newspaper office. Young Frank Robins had just turned 13 when his 39-year-old father purchased the Log Cabin.
Six months later, J.W. Robins died. His wife, Minnie Freeman Robins, published the paper until the fall of 1894, when she turned the operation of the Log Cabin over to O.C. Ludwig. Three years later, Mrs. Robins again became involved in the operation of the newspaper.
Another newspaper, the Democrat, had begun publishing in Conway in 1881, but a fire at the offices caused it to cease publication in 1885. About 10 years later, the Democrat was revived by a group of three men, and in 1896, Underbill returned to Conway and purchased it. In 1899, he married Minnie Robins and thus became associated again with the Log Cabin. The two newspapers were published from the same office, and the Robins-Underhill marriage was the first step toward the merger of the two papers, which occurred in 1901 and the name Log Cabin Democrat was born. A year after the merger, Underhill’s health failed and Frank E. Robins, then 22, took over management of the newspaper his father had purchased eight years earlier.
When Underhill died in 1906, Robins became the editor and purchased his stepfather’s interest. Two years later, on Sept. 14, 1908, there was a drastic change in the newspaper, when Frank Robins decided to begin a daily edition of the Log Cabin Democrat to coincide with the opening of the Arkansas State Normal School (now the University of Central Arkansas).
In 1949, Frank E. Robins Jr. became publisher of the newspaper upon the death of his father. Frank E. Robins III began his career at the newspaper at the age of 13 as a newspaper carrier. Prior to becoming publisher of the paper in 1959 upon the death of his father, Mr. Robins was laying the foundation for when he would assume control of the business. He worked in every department of the paper, including as a reporter, proofreader, he operated the Linotype machines during the "hot metal" days, worked in the camera room, composing and makeup, advertising department and in the pressroom.
Mr. Robins often used his many talents to build tools and equipment for the newspaper when a commercial source could not be found, or if the quality of the commercial product was not up to his standards. For example, when the paper was looking to purchase new light tables for the composing room, Mr. Robins couldn’t find a commercial model with all the features he thought it should have, so he designed and built a prototype, and later built seven more. After almost three decades of use, they are still in use at the newspaper today.
His innovations weren’t just limited to tools, however. He masterminded unique concepts at the paper, such as a Customer Convenience Center, a staff Reference Book, a daily in-house news bulletin, and many other items designed to benefit readers, walk-in customers and advertisers.
In response to a need he saw for advertisers and readers alike, on Dec. 2, 1979, Mr. Robins dropped the Saturday edition of the Log Cabin Democrat and started a Sunday morning edition. On April 14, 1980, after 80 years on Oak Street, the Log Cabin offices were moved from 1318 Oak St. to its current quarters at 1058 Front St.
In July of that same year, a new computer system was installed, which replaced the typewriter as the reporter’s trusty tool, moving the Log Cabin another step away from the green-eyeshade era of journalism when Able F. Livingston opened his newspaper office in Conway.
Two years later, Aug. 26, 1982, the Log Cabin Democrat ceased publication of its weekly edition, ending a tradition of small-community coverage that stretched back over 100 years.
On Oct. 1, 1989, the Log Cabin Democrat finalized a planned restructuring of the corporation’s ownership. The restructuring included 51 percent of the stock in the newspaper being owned by Mr. Robins, his wife, Dorothy, and his daughter, Laura Robins Falls. The remaining 49 percent was purchased by Stauffer Communications Inc. of Topeka, Kan. Mr. Robins continued to serve as publisher until his retirement in 1994.
The newspaper is now fully owned by Morris Communications Inc. of Augusta, Ga.
Memorials may be made to either, First United Methodist Church, Permanent Endowment Fund, 1610 Prince St., Conway, AR 72032; Sigma Tau Gamma, First Security Bank, Attn: Mike Hussman, 801 Hogan Lane, Conway, AR 72034; Arkansas Childrens Hospital (Peanut Allergy Research), 1 Childrens Way, Little Rock, AR 72202.
Online guest book: www.rollerfuneralhomes.com.