Dr. John Peter Robinson, a retired University of Maryland sociologist who found that people have more leisure time than they admit, died of stroke complications March 22 at Glendale Adventist Hospital in Glendale, Calif. The former Columbia resident was 83.
Called “Father Time” by his academic colleagues, Dr. Robinson spent most of his career at the University of Maryland, College Park, where he was a professor of sociology and the director of the Maryland Survey Research Center.
Born in Rochester, N.Y., he was the son of Clifford Robinson, a phone company technician, and his wife, Frances Catherine, a homemaker. He was a 1953 graduate of the Aquinas Institute of Rochester. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and went on to receive three master’s degrees: in mathematical statistics at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in psychology and another in sociology from the University of Michigan. In 1965, he received a doctorate in mathematical social psychology, also from University of Michigan.
According to his academic biography, he was a professor of communication and director of survey research at Cleveland State University and an assistant professor in the department of journalism at University of Michigan before joining the faculty of the University of Maryland, College Park in 1980.He also was the director of the Americans Use of Time Project and of the Internet Scholars Project.
He was a co-author of the 1999 book, “Time for Life: The Surprising Ways Americans Use Their Time.” He also wrote scores of articles in social science journals related to time use. He made numerous appearances on radio and television outlets, including “Good Morning America.”
In 1991 he was interviewed by a Chicago Tribute reporter.
“Polls and surveys consistently show that Americans are convinced that their leisure time is decreasing, Robinson says. But 24-hour behavioral diaries tracking what thousands of men and women actually do with their time tell a different story, the time expert says,” the article said. “Americans have about 40 hours of free time a week, compared to 34 hours in 1965.”
The article asked why does more time feel like less?
Dr. Robinson suggested a pace-of-life theory as explanation for the discrepancy.
“We insist on trying to accomplish more,” he said in 1991. “But the 24-hour day stubbornly refuses to accommodate us. Even apart from the demands of work and family, the activities crying out for a share of our leisure time can be overwhelming.
''There are self-improvement courses, entertainment going on all over the place, new sporting activities and sporting goods, options for new hobbies, new magazines to read, even more channels to watch on television,'' Dr. Robinson said. ''We have more choices and more options in terms of things to do.''
Geoffrey Godbey, a Pennsylvania State University professor who collaborated with him, said, “John Robinson was a world authority on how people use time in daily life. His work shaped our understanding of what humans actually do in time and space. He was a pioneer in the use of time diaries and online methods of measuring people's use of time and how they perceived it.”
Dr. Godbey recalled him as a colorful person who attended Burning Man Festivals, crossed the Soviet Union by car in winter, and was an authority on beer and the brewing of beer.
“My father was an eccentric and an extravert. He would tell you, ‘If you want to get something done, ask a busy person,’ ” said his son, Stephen P. Robinson of Los Angeles. “He grew up in the Depression and as a result was frugal. He loved to buy things on sale and buy something scratched at a Woodward and Lothrop warehouse sale. He liked getting a good deal.”
Professor Robinson was an avid beer aficionado who wrote articles for microbrewery magazines and was an investor in the Victory Brewing Co. of Pennsylvania. He was a world traveler whose favorite locations were London, Paris and Belgium — where he favored the beer. He was also a collector of British pub signs and other tavern-related memorabilia.
In addition to his son, survivors include two sisters, Mary Daly and Shelley Oliver, both of Rochester; a brother, Paul Robinson of Atlanta; and two grandchildren. A daughter, Jennifer Lyn Robinson died in 2018. His marriage to Nancy Hagan, a writer, ended in divorce.