Richmond District Yesteryear

New Column – Peta Cooper: “Richmond District Yesteryear”

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Stories from the Richmond District

By Peta Cooper

My name is Peta, I was born and raised in the Richmond District, a proud GWHS class of 2001 graduate. I grew up reading the Richmond Review. I guess somewhere in the back of mind, I wanted to write for the paper. My column is going to be based around growing up in the Richmond District and hopefully it brings back some memories for all of you.

Given the fact he was born in July, I thought it would be appropriate to kick off this column with a particular memory I have of Robin Williams.

In the mid ’90s, if you were trick-or-treating in the Richmond District, Robin Williams’s house in Seacliff would be the first point of call. His staff handed out glow-sticks to the kids, which was a very sweet gesture.

When I was 15 and a half, I got a job at the Exploratorium as an Explainer. It was the best job ever, I got a paycheck every two weeks, which was awesome. More candy! Just kidding. It was a great confidence builder. Essentially, we were the only floor staff. The guests would come up to us and ask questions.

The minimum wage was $5.75 per hour, and I worked every Saturday and Sunday. During the mornings, we get our rota of where we were supposed to be.

This is where we would trade shifts. One of my colleagues hated the drawing board, which was a board held up by four wire suspensions. A child or an adult would pick four colors from a device that held the marker in place. They would move the board, the marker would create of the design from the movement.

We got word Robin Williams was coming with a group of kids. As employees, we weren’t allowed to approach him. This was around the time after he won his Academy Award for “Good Will Hunting.”

I had the drawing board around 2 p.m, I was expecting someone by the name of “Z.” This young girl, probably around 8 or 9 years old, came up to me. Normally I always asked the children if they wanted help making a figure 8 since that seemed to be a popular design. She was very confident and told me she could do it on her own, so I just let her do her thing. Z definitely knew what she was doing, she came up with some funky designs.

I noticed a man, he had a jean jacket with a matching hat, watching her very attentively. He kept a low profile, at first I thought it was Robin, but I wasn’t so sure. At the end, the child usually writes their name on their drawing, she wrote out Zelda. I realised the man was Robin.

He wasn’t switched on, he was very quiet. But you could just see the pride and love in his eyes, he just leaned up against the barrier, his hands underneath his chin. He looked like he was in a reflective state of mind. The noise pollution of the Exploratorium didn’t distract him.

I complimented Zelda’s design, rolled it up for her and they were on their way to go look at other exhibits on the Mezzanine. Word got back at the Explainer Lounge about my encounter. My colleague was ready to rip her hair out because she was a big Robin Williams fan.

Normally I don’t get emotional with celebrities death, but I cried when he passed away. It seems like most of us in the Richmond District have a Robin Williams story to share. Whether it was running into him at Angelina’s Deli Cafe or seeing him on Lake Street.

Please share your Robin Williams memories by leaving a comment below or drop me an email.

Happy Birthday Robin. Thank you for all the laughs.

Peta Copper is a life-long Richmond District resident, a 2001 graduate of George Washington High School and is currently a social media specialist for a film production company.

10 replies »

  1. Hi Your idea is a good and sweet idea , esp because Robin Williams was as far as i know mainly good and sweet and genuine. My observations are fairly short and simple
    The first time I encountered Mr. Williams in person was when I walked into a liquor store (to buy a newspaper) on Geary Blvd., near 21st ave. He was with an adult male companion. When I recognized him I am pretty sure my face was lit with surprise. He turned to face me and said a friendly “Hello”. I did not know what to say. I think I left the store without buying anything or saying anything. By the time he was ready to leave the store, however, a small crowd of onlookers/admirers had gathered on the sidewalk and curbside respectfully not approaching him. As he was walking away, I felt an urge to speak up, and I said “Mr. Williams”, he turned around (accommodatingly) and I said loud enough for all to hear: “You are great!” I am really glad I did. I think it is fair to say he heard a lot of praise in his lifetime, but this was perhaps my only chance to offer him praise directly.

    The second time I saw Mr. Williams in the Richmond district, he was in a coffee shop on Clement St, I think near 25th Ave, also with a male companion. It seemed clear that everyone recognized him but everyone also respectfully “gave him space”. A rather young pair of males, apparently Mormon missionaries, asked him to take a photo with him , and he obliged.

    Of course, these are short simple observations of simple acts. but he came across as genuine and accommodating both times

    Best wishes with the Robin Williams sightings and encounters project.


    • Hi Rob,

      Thank you so much for your lovely comments and memories, it still brings tears to my eyes when I think about Robin. But we got his creative genius forever captured on tape.


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Apologies, I misspelled Mormon, in the second to last paragraph. No offense to anyone intended. Perhaps it shows, that even with the best intention, we can commit potentially offense remarks; so please “forgive me my trespasses as i forgive those who trespass against me.”
    Better yet, in reviewing, please edit the spelling.


  3. PETA, Robin Williams’ stories. My 4-yr son said the man in the car next to us was looking at him. I turned to face the person, who I recognized but I had a brain drain. I said Mork & Mindy, but my son gave me a blank look. So, I yelled, “Good Morning, Vietnam” which he had watched with his aunts. This look of recognition on both my son and Robin was priceless. BTW my son is class of 2002 GWHS.


    • Oh wow Sam! Good Morning Vietnam was amazing. My next article will be all about GWHS so stay tuned for that. Thanks for sharing your memories!


      Liked by 1 person

  4. Hello Peta! We actually knew Robin, and we made a movie about those who knew him continuing his legacy of helping the homeless—Margaret Cho and Friends decided to #BeRobin, rather than just grieve his death. At many of our film screenings of, we held events to benefit the local homeless at the venues in San Francisco, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, and Sacramento ❤️


    • Hi Kurt, your tribute to Robin was absolutely fantastic. I loved all those comic relief shows he did with Whoopi and Billy Crystal. Thanks for sharing the article on your page.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. I never did make it in time to get the prize at his house on Halloween, but the legend was enough to sustain me. Here’s my Robin Williams memory: I was walking on Geary and 20th right by Gaspare’s pizza and I he was walking toward me, we both smiled at each other and his smile was so genuine and happy, until the moment I realized who it was and he realized that I recognized him- in that instant it was as if a mask came over his face and though he was still smiling, the openness that was there a moment ago was gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Yuliya, nice to see you on here old friend! Thanks so much for sharing your Robin Williams memory. I remember seeing him around Angelina’s just trying to blend in, at times it did work. It’s too bad you never made it to his place to get a glowstick, that was the best part about Halloween!


      Liked by 1 person

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