The shock and sorrow from Robin Williams’ death will remain with all of us for some time. But in her unimaginable grief, his wife was courageous enough to ask us to remember him for “the countless moments of joy and laughter he gave to millions.” So it is with that request that I want to recount the story of how I met Robin Williams.
About a dozen Decembers ago, I was onsite at the Flood Mansion in San Francisco to manage a holiday party for a private business association. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this property, it is an event venue by night and a girl’s school – Convent of the Sacred Heart – by day.
As part of the cocktail reception that preceded dinner, the girls in the school’s choir sang an assortment of holiday tunes to entertain the guests. The parents of these girls were told by school officials to wait outside the building until the performance was over, and then their daughters would be escorted outside to meet the parents. All of the parents dutifully obeyed this directive… except for one dad.
Just after the girls’ performance ended, this guy wearing a backwards baseball cap and ski jacket suddenly burst into the room full of formally-attired guests. At the time, I was circulating through the room, graciously inviting guests to be seated for dinner in the adjacent Grand Hall. I did not recognize him because, in addition to his out-of-place outfit, he was also wearing glasses.
“Sir, you were told to wait outside until we could escort the girls out of the building,” I said to him sternly. “Right now, I have to get the guests seated for dinner, so if you could go back outside and wait a few more minutes, you’ll be able to take your daughter home soon.”
Did he listen to me? Of course not.
Instead, he ran up into the Grand Hall, where Dick Bright’s band was getting ready to play, and grabbed a microphone. Then he launched into an impromptu impersonation of an airline pilot making announcements to his passengers. As everyone began to realize who this crazy dad was, we became enraptured travelers on a most hilarious flight. The guests were immediately drawn into the Great Hall by his performance and they obediently sat down when he told them it was time to fasten their seat belts.
At the end of his amazing monologue, the Snow Queen character that we had hired for the event rushed over to wave her magic wand and sprinkle fairy dust on him. Meanwhile, I scrambled to grab my cheapo camera (no iPhones back in those days) and managed to snap this blurry image for posterity.
After he had left with his daughter, my client came over to me and said, “I know we had money in the budget for the Snow Queen, but I didn’t think we had enough to afford a performance from Robin Williams!” I just smiled and replied, “No, we didn’t have any money in the budget for that performance. But none of the guests need to know that.”
While his hysterical antics on TV and in the movies have brightened my day more times than I can possibly count, this was the first and only time I ever saw Robin Williams live and in person. And it is this memory of him that I will always cherish the most.