Richard Henry Robertson Sr. lived many lives in his nine decades — an outfielder in the Negro Leagues, a World War II veteran, Huntington's first black police officer.
For the many baseball lovers who knew Robertson, his tryout with the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1940s would be the highlight of their lives. Robertson, of Huntington, told his family the tryout — amid Jackie Robinson's storied shattering of Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947 — proved a disappointment. The league of mostly white players was feeling the pressure to integrate the game but he felt he never got a fair look at his tryout.
His son, Richard Robertson Jr., said a top minor league scout didn't want too many black players.
"He said it wasn’t a good time, the memory of how it ended," noted Robertson Jr., 63, of Huntington. "I said to him, 'You were blessed and it was fate.’ ”
Instead, Robertson, who died at home Nov. 1 at age 95, would become a pioneer of a different sort on Long Island as he helped integrate local law enforcement.
Born and raised in Huntington, Robertson graduated from Huntington High School and enlisted in the Air Force during World War II. Before leaving for military service, he played outfield for the Brooklyn Brown Dodgers in the Negro Leagues.
"He was known as one of the best athletes in Huntington," his son said.
At one of Robertson's baseball games, his mother sat next to a young woman and that was how he met his wife, Corinne Griffin Jackson.
After being discharged from the military, Robertson joined the Huntington Town Police Department in 1949. In a 2014 interview about his career, Robertson told Newsday that some of his colleagues initially refused to partner with him. Ultimately, he said, they showed him "the respect I got from people that never thought I would last, and then came up to me when I retired to shake my hand and say I'd done a good job."
In 1960, Robertson joined the Suffolk County Police Department and ultimately retired as a sergeant in 1970.
But he stayed active. All the while he was patrolling Long Island, Robertson also operated a 10-wheeler trucking company that carted materials to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park in Queens to help build the 1964 World's Fair. He drove a school bus for Walt Whitman High School and ran a used-brick business. He also worked as a security guard at Touro Law School for 20 years.
"He kept busy," his son said. For fun, Robertson attended Yankees games and concerts at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and enjoyed dining out. He also was the definitive source for family lore, his son said.
"He always kept up with his family. Any time you had questions or if people wanted to know about their family lineage," they'd come to him, Robertson Jr. said. "He was a real good dad. You listen to the stories and you remember that he was a kid once, too. If I ever needed something, he was there for me. And if I didn’t ask him, he would say, 'How come you didn’t come to me first?’ ”
Along with his son, Robertson is survived by his wife, 94. His funeral was held Nov. 8 at Bethel AME Church in Huntington, followed by burial at Calverton National Cemetery.