Connecticut Catalyst: The Heaton R. Robertson Story

Heaton Robertson during his time at Yale University. Photo courtesy Yale University Library, Manuscripts and Archives.

"Being too young to further engage in the senile sports of chess or yacht racing, or sitting in my chair (though I do love that one), I spend all my leisure time in going about the country for figure skating events. Pretending to myself that the writing of tracts on judging is doing a lot of good, but in reality in order to play around on the ice with a lot of very young people. Grow old with me!" - Heaton Robertson, "Fortieth Anniversary Record Of The Class Of 1904 - Yale College", 1947

Born November 23, 1882 in New Haven, Connecticut, Heaton 'Heat' 'Robbie' Ridgway Robertson was the son of Abram and Graziella (Ridgway) Robertson. His father was a prominent judge and his grandfather Dr. John Brownlee Robertson a former mayor of New Haven.  His great-great-grandfather emigrated from Scotland to Charleston, South Carolina in 1765.

Heaton's father, Judge Abram Heaton Robertson

As a young man, Heaton attended Phillips Andover Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. He later earned a B.A., Ph.B. and E.M. at Yale University. While at Yale, he served as an assistant instructor in mining and metallurgy. The Yale College Class Book 1904 noted, "He chose [Yale] because the college was a near a place where he could get good food - namely, home... Robbie's grievance seems to be the lack of a smoking-room."

After his graduation, Heaton taught mathematics at Yale, mined in Cripple Creek, Colorado and served as the chief construction engineer for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company. From 1916 until his retirement, he served as the chief engineer of the Connecticut State Shellfish Commission. While serving in that position, he revised all of the state charts for Long Island Sound and developed a system for locating and preserving oyster beds in Connecticut. When he wasn't focusing on the delicious treasures that lied below the ocean waves, he was busy playing chess, winning races in his sloop, the Varuna, attending the Trinity Episocopalian Church or showing his support for the Democratic Party. He had two children with his first wife Emily, who passed away in 1915, and later married Myrtle Dean DeLancey, the widowed daughter of a prosperous Chicago advertising executive. His son Heaton II graduated from Yale and taught flying during World War II.

Heaton R. Robertson, Doris Shubach and Walter Noffke. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

In addition to his many accomplishments off the ice, Heaton was one of the biggest movers and shakers in the figure skating world. A three time winner of The Hobbs Trophy in Lake Placid, he was a perennial competitor at the U.S. Championships in the roaring twenties and one of the more prominent members of the New Haven Skating Club. He was third in the junior men's event at the U.S. Championships four years in a row (from 1923 to 1926) and finished second with partner Mrs. John T. Sloan in the first junior pairs event at the U.S. Championships in 1923. At the same time he was competing, he was active as a judge, referee and accountant.

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

In addition to serving as President of the U.S. Figure Skating Association from 1940 to 1943, Heaton held various positions on the organization's executive including Treasurer, Chairman of the Competitions and Rules Committee, Eastern Committee, Judges And Judging Committee and Standards And Tests Committee. He served as a national and international judge, accountant and referee and sponsored and assisted with the USFSA's first Judges Manual in 1942. He later authored the books "Evaluation Of School Figure Errors" and "What Judges Are Looking For In School Figures And Free Skating". Despite the effects of World War II, during his presidency of the USFSA subscriptions to "Skating" magazine nearly doubled and efforts were made to improve judging and education for skaters and coaches alike.

Heaton, who was registered for the draft during World War II, recalled the USFSA's efforts to keep figure skating alive during the War thusly: "The competitions were continued all through the war, as were most of our other activities. This was at first considered to be impractical and perhaps not even quite patriotic. It was later agreed that competitions should be run wherever there were suitable entries, and other activities followed a similar course. As it turned out, there were plenty of entries in all but the Men's Senior class, and the wartime competitions were otherwise remarkably successful. Our organization deals very largely with the young people who like to take tests and to compete, and a somewhat older group fond of dancing. This healthy and absorbing recreation was a distinct asset to those whose war efforts entailed long hours and unusual responsibilities. For the young, whose impressionable years were lived under changed conditions, the concentrated effort of long hours spent in skating did very much for them, too."

Top: Heaton Robertson presenting a trophy to Arthur Vaughn Jr. Bottom: Heaton R. Robertson presenting a trophy to Jane Vaughn Sullivan. Photo courtesy "Skating Through The Years".

Benjamin T. Wright, the late ISU and USFSA Historian, recalled, "Robertson made a substantial contribution to the development of judges' education in addition to standardizing the methods of instruction for judges' schools. An excellent teacher himself, [he] worked long and hard on a one-on-one basis with many candidate judges... He made a comprehensive revision of the judges lists, weeding out many who were inactive, over age or otherwise incompetent... He was a truly versatile and intellectual person, serving as a competitor, judge, accountant, referee, club officer, Association officer, committee chairman and author... A remarkable intellect, he was perhaps best remembered for his 'nurturing' and teaching of new young judges... He was a skilled mathematician, and one story about him reflects that. At a competition he was judging, at the end of the free skating, he asked for a few moments to transcribe his marks. It was found that he had started out with too high a range, so he had just kept right on marking above the then maximum mark of 10.0, and after the event, in virtually a few seconds, he transposed his entire set of marks down to within the maximum permitted. Fortunately for him, the modified open system was being used!"

Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine

After being named an Honorary Vice-President of the USFSA in 1951, Heaton passed away at the home of his son in Branford, Connecticut on May 9, 1953 at the age of seventy two, having suffered from a serious stroke two years prior. He was inducted posthumously into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall Of Fame in 1977 and his name was attached to the U.S. novice women's trophy.

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