In The Pipeline: Remembering an Earth Day hero

Brian Robertson left Long Beach Airport last Dec. 22 in a 1980 Cessna, fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft.

He took off at 8:05 a.m., and it was supposed to take him six hours and 20 minutes to reach his destination of York Airport in Pennsylvania, where the 38-year-old Huntington Beach businessman was headed to see family.

That evening, witnesses in York, just two miles from the local airport, reported seeing the plane spinning through the air out of control just before it crashed into a corn field, killing Robertson.

You may remember reading about this Christmastime tragedy. Robertson and his wife, Eileen, have three children, ages nine, seven and four. A brilliant man, Robertson had been the chief executive of Amonix, a solar technology company based in Seal Beach. He was also a graduate of MIT and earned a master's degree at Harvard Business School. But when you speak with his widow, you learn so much more than the basic (albeit impressive) facts of his life.

"He was an unbelievable doer," Eileen told me. "People would ask me, 'Does he ever sleep?' But that was my husband. He rose every day with passion to go out and change the world for the better. And so that is what he did."

To honor the legacy of her husband, Eileen is helping to organize the Brian D. Robertson (BDR) Earth Day Family Fun Run at 11 a.m. Sunday at Bolsa Chica State Beach.

She told me that she and her husband both shared the notion of making the most of every day, and also shared a love of the environment, which is why the event is taking place on Earth Day.

"Brian was CEO of a solar panel manufacturing company, and he traveled the world — from Saudi Arabia to China to Mexico — working on ways to help the earth harness its natural energy," she said.

And so she is applying all of her natural energy in the spirit of her husband, in a way that she said she knows will keep his spirit strong for her, for her three young children, and for anyone who had the good fortune to know her creative and energetic husband.

"And if you didn't know Brian," she added, "I'd like to think an event like this will show you what he was all about."

All proceeds from the event benefit the Brian D. Robertson Foundation to support organizations that have a positive impact on the environment and that promote family wellness. The foundation is committed to putting resources raised by this Fun Run back into the local communities of Southern California. There is a 5K run and a Kids 1 Mile Fun Run, and all details can be found at

Family wellness was and is a big deal in the Robertson household. Eileen told me that's why she wanted to create a family-style event for Brian: because the celebration of the family and the health and wellness for the family is paramount.

Reflecting on the catastrophic event last December, she also shared that from now on, Christmas will have an entirely new meaning for the family — as it will be a time to celebrate their lost husband and father. Gifts Brian had for the children were recovered from the crash site. And the Robertson Christmas photo, included here in this column, became an image for the ages — one of the last times this beautiful family was photographed together.

And there is a song that resonates in Eileen's head. It's something she feels, in a way, may have been inadvertently written for her and Brian. It's by Kris Allen and it's called "Live Like We're Dying." She finds it so poignant because it addresses the idea of squeezing every bit of joy and life out of each day. Just like her husband did. As the song goes:

Yeah, we gotta start

Looking at the hands of the time we've been given

If this is all we got and we gotta start thinking

If every second counts on a clock that's ticking

Gotta live like we're dying

But it also includes this lyric:

And if your plane fell out of the skies

Who would you call with your last goodbye?

Should be so careful who we let fall outta our lives

So when we long for absolution,

There'll be no one on the line, yeah

I hope you are able to make it out this Sunday.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at

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