Don Robinson liked to say that he never held "a real job." But he made a lot of money marketing a spot remover called "Off" on late night TV.
When he died Monday, the lifelong bachelor left the people of Missouri a giant present: 843 acres of land — the same size as New York's famed Central Park.
Missouri officials plan to make the land into the next state park and name it after him: Don Robinson State Park.
The land is southeast of Pacific in Jefferson County, about a half hour from the St. Louis suburbs. It is rich in plant life, some of it unique to the area, and surrounded by sandstone canyons.
"It's really a neat place," Bill Bryan, director of Missouri state parks, said Wednesday. It is one of the largest gifts in the 95-year history of the state parks, he said.
"We are grateful that he chose to share his special place with all Missourians," Bryan added.
Don Robinson died Monday (March 19, 2012), at the Pacific Care Center in Pacific. He was 84, and friends said he had become increasingly weak from congestive heart failure.
Robinson was reared in University City, the son of a lawyer who worked for the state. As a child during the Depression, Don was embarrassed when his family took in boarders to help pay the bills.
Friends say he graduated from University City High School and began looking for property to buy cheaply, divide and sell for a profit.
One unusual deal involved a hotel decorated with terra cotta that Robinson fancied. The hotel, near the old Gaslight Square, was about to be torn down.
Robinson hired a bunch of youngsters with hammers and chisels to cut out the mortar, lug the terra cotta down to the ground, and haul it to his property in Jefferson County. What he ultimately did with it his friends had no idea.
His biggest deal involved buying a formula for a spot remover he had heard about.
He borrowed the money from his idol: Gerard Lambert, who became rich marketing his father's invention — Listerine — by turning bad breath into a social disgrace.
Robinson found a way to manufacture his spot remover at little cost. He hired high school students to mix what he called "the product" and deliver it to hardware stores and supermarkets here and in surrounding states.
He marketed Off in tubes as a miracle cleaner and advertised on late night TV ads when rates were cheapest.
"It will actually melt the Latex off your blue jeans," Nancy Rice, a friend and neighbor, said of the cleaner.
Robinson put his name, address and phone number on the label of Off. Customers sometimes called him in the middle of the night, and he would get up to take their orders.
He was known for being a likable, funny guy and incredibly frugal.
Friends said he never bought health insurance, although he could afford it. When he needed open-heart surgery during the 1980s, he paid for it out-of-pocket.
In food stores, he asked for anything "in the back" that the store was ready to throw out.
He once went through the rubble of a burned-out grocery picking up cans of food without labels. "He didn't know what he was going to be eating until he opened the can," Rice recalled.
Robinson didn't seem to care what he ate, wore or drove. He put all his Off profits into real estate that he later sold to be developed into malls and subdivisions.
In the late 1960s, he fell in love with some land he found near Cedar Hill in Jefferson County. He started buying parcels until he had exactly 843 acres, enough land to equal the size of Central Park.
He moved into a one-bedroom stone house built on a hill on the property. The cap rock of the hill was the floor of the house.
Robinson called it "a step above camping." Neighbors doubted it was that nice.
Today the land "is worth a lot of money," said John Higgins, a longtime friend chosen to help with the transfer to the state.
Robinson had no immediate family. His agreement with the state came about after friends suggested that he draw up a will.
"I don't want to think about it," he replied.
One friend, Frank Curotto, said Robinson should leave the land to the state as a way to prevent it from being sold after his death and divided into mobile home parks and strip malls.
About five years ago, an agreement was drawn up with the state Department of Natural Resources providing for the land to be given in trust to the state after Robinson's death.
The land will become Missouri's 87th state park. Bryan, the parks director, said it was too soon to predict when it would open to the public. That will have to wait until the estate is settled, he said.
When last inspected, Bryan added, the property "was in excellent condition and showcased the natural attributes very well."
Robinson's estate lawyer, Michael Magiliari of Chesterfield, said any money left over after paying Robinson's bills would go to the state to help with the park's upkeep. He said that probably wouldn't be a large sum.
"There is no perpetual trust, and the state is going to have to fund that property, but they are getting the land for free," Magiliari added.
Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller welcomed the news, saying: "You can never have enough parks."
The park will border part of the roughly 100 acres owned by the Franciscan Missionary Brothers, where six Franciscan brothers live in a monastery. It's also the site of the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos.
Mike Schully, the shrine's director, said he was pleased the land would become a state park instead of housing developments, which he said was "always a possibility."
Robinson's friends said he didn't want to pay the extra expense of a funeral at a mortuary.
They plan to bury him today on his property in a private memorial service.
Leah Thorsen of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.