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Community Hero: ‘Bill from The Cove’ gets a slice of the ‘Lorax Tree’ in honor of his seaside service

La Jolla resident Bill Robbins holds an award recognizing his community service around La Jolla Cove and Scripps Park.
La Jolla resident Bill Robbins holds a specially made award recognizing his community service around La Jolla Cove and Scripps Park.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Bill Robbins is known by a lot of nicknames. “Mayor Bill.” “Bill from The Cove.” Sometimes “The Lorax.”

So it was only fitting that as a tribute to his community service, the La Jolla resident received a slice of what was known as the “Lorax Tree” that fell in Scripps Park last year. The ceremony was held the morning of Nov. 6 at his beloved Cove.

Robbins — a certified scuba diver since 1963 and a longtime member of the Dawn Patrol swim club, which meets three times a week in the early morning for a swim in La Jolla Cove — conducts self-appointed patrols of The Cove and Scripps Park every morning and serves as the eyes and ears in the area for local community groups and city agencies.

For events at Scripps Park, he usually will coordinate with organizers to make sure everything is executed to the letter and cleaned up appropriately afterward. He also keeps tabs on ongoing projects, such as the under-construction restroom facility. And he knew before most people that the Red Rest cottage across from the park had burned down early Oct. 26.

Robbins’ award — organized by the La Jolla Parks & Beaches advisory board, specifically member Phyllis Minick — is a plaque affixed to a portion of the tree, which was long believed to have inspired children’s book author Dr. Seuss to write “The Lorax.” The tree fell June 13, 2019, and was soon removed by the city of San Diego.

The award recognizes Robbins’ “devoted guardianship of our La Jolla Village shores.” Robbins has been a member of LJP&B on and off for many years.

An award for Bill Robbins was made from a slice of the "Lorax Tree" that fell in Scripps Park last year.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

“The first time I heard Bill speak at a La Jolla Parks & Beaches meeting [was] that he was handing out to groups of people on the beach ... his saved supply of grocery bags,” Minick told the LJP&B board during an announcement of his award. “He told them, ‘Please dispose of your trash here instead of on the beach.’ Now I have gathered my own gently used bags for Bill to distribute.”

At the ceremony, she said Robbins is La Jolla’s “man on the shore every day” and that he has “overseen construction projects [and watched for] flaws in event setups, inadequate trash disposal and mistakes in parking arrangements.”

She presented him with the plaque and a copy of “The Lorax” with personalized notes inside.

Warwick’s bookstore owner Nancy Warwick, who donated the book, told the La Jolla Light that “Bill’s community-minded dedication to La Jolla is a testament to his integrity, hard work and unflappable state of mind. His firsthand knowledge of the daily issues facing our beach life is a tremendous resource to La Jolla Parks & Beaches and, by extension, our community at large. I am delighted for him to be given such special recognition. Bill is a local treasure and a friend to so many.”

About 50 people attended the award presentation bright and early at 6:30 a.m.

About 50 people gathered at The Cove on Nov. 6 to honor Bill Robbins' community service.
About 50 people gathered at The Cove on Nov. 6 to honor Bill Robbins’ community service.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Lifeguard Lt. Brian Clark said he first met “Bill from The Cove” while working there about 10 years ago as a seasonal lifeguard.

“He would get here at 6 in the morning and we wouldn’t report until 8, so he would help the swimmers in the La Jolla Cove Swim Club,” Clark said. “He gives lifeguards updates when we get on duty. When we come down, he’ll let us know how many swimmers are in the water. We don’t expect it, but it’s nice to know what’s going on.”

San Diego Council of Divers President Joel Tracy said Robbins is an “outstanding community supporter” who assists not just divers he knows but also ones he doesn’t.

“He walks along the edge of the water while our members are in the water, so if there is a situation, we can contact the lifeguards in a seamless manner,” Tracy said. “He spends every day down here to make sure the public has a safe and enjoyable experience.

“Most of the public doesn’t know he exists, but for those of us that are down here, we know without him, most of the things that improve this place wouldn’t have happened. He’s an amazing guy.”

LJP&B member John Shannon called Robbins “the glue that holds everything together” and said most Cove-goers don’t know how much goes on behind the scenes. “People don’t realize, but he takes care of so much, so we never see the problems. He is and has been the constant in all the changes of the guard at the city.”

A watercolor painting of Bill Robbins was a surprise gift at the award presentation.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

After the ceremony, La Jolla Cove Swim Club President Dan Simonelli said “Mayor Bill” does “so much more for all of us who regularly swim, dive and frequent The Cove, as well as the multitude of visitors. He welcomes all patrons, swimmers and divers, visitors young and old. Always helpful with any information and his vast knowledge of The Cove and La Jolla in general. I’ve swum at The Cove almost every day for the past 10 years and I still learn of things Bill does to keep our Cove and the surroundings well-maintained.”

As the Light interviewed Robbins for this article, ceremony guests frequently interjected stories and congratulations, pats on his shoulder and COVID-19-friendly elbow bumps.

One shared that Robbins helped his daughter get comfortable swimming in The Cove and that in 2018 she swam the English Channel.

The man of the hour

“Coming out here every morning helps me, gives me a sense of purpose,” Robbins said. “It’s not fun here every day; we have homeless people that come here, sea lion issues, people that insist it’s their right to smoke, etc.”

So why does he do it?

“I just need to get up and do something,” he said. “I’ve been swimming and diving a long time, but I don’t say I’m smarter than anyone, I say I’m experienced. I learned about this area and made mistakes so they don’t have to. I have a speech I give divers about safe places here and spots to watch out for, and one time, I was giving a guy my whole speech and the guy looked at me and said, ‘I know, Bill. You rescued me from one of those spots last year.’”

When asked about where he grew up, he said he and his family would move every couple of years. “I tried that growing up thing and found it to be highly overrated,” he said.

“The beach is the one place where salt is good for you, where it lowers your blood pressure,” he said. “I do other things; if it hadn’t been for COVID I would have been scuba diving in Thailand. … But I love it here because I love the sunrises, the animals, swimming by myself in what I call aqua-psychology. It’s the draw; there is something magnetic about The Cove.”

Community Heroes logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. If you know such a person, email Editor Rob Vardon at robert.vardon@lajollalight.com. Please limit suggestions to people who live or work in La Jolla or otherwise have strong ties to the community.