Long before this month's publication of her book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait, Rachel Robinson had wanted to chronicle her life with her husband, Jackie. "I tried to do a book in the 1980s, but I couldn't find the voice," Rachel says. She found it poring over thousands of family photographs, eloquent images that span the years from her first date with Jackie, in 1941, to the October day in '72 when she wept at his grave. "Going through the pictures, I was struck by the richness of the life we had."
Amazingly to Rachel—a vital, intelligent woman and the lifeblood of the Jackie Robinson Foundation, which provides college scholarships to minority students—more than half a century has passed since she was at UCLA, studying to be a nurse and being courted by Jackie. "We were young and in love," says Rachel, "and though we didn't know what we would do, we were confident. We thought Jack might coach high school. But we knew that would have been settling; we wanted to go beyond that."
Jackie, of course, went where no one had gone before when in 1947, as a Brooklyn Dodger, he became the first black to play major league baseball in this century. It was Rachel's support that helped him endure the racism that might have broken a lesser man. "We had an overriding feeling that there was a goal we needed to reach," says Rachel. "That helps you transcend the obstacles in front of you."
In '56 Jackie ended his baseball career and confronted life after the game. "One reason we didn't feel so bad about baseball ending was the civil rights movement," says Rachel. "Jack had a chance to help a great cause." He did that by speaking out on racial issues and—with Rachel, then a nurse at NYU, at his side—involving himself in politics. "People remember him as an aggressive player coming down the third base line and as a man of courage and determination," says Rachel. "But I also remember his enormous capacity to love. Jack's devotion to me was so unusual. It enabled me to develop into the person I am."