In December 1970 in Bangkok, Thailand, Steve Robbins, a Brewer native and a 24-year-old noncommissioned officer in the Army during the Vietnam War, had many jobs assigned to him. One was running entertainment for both the NCO Club and the Officers’ Club, both located in a hotel in the city. Bangkok didn’t have a military base, but it did have many Army offices and operational headquarters.
“Every night at the club, there was a 15-piece orchestra playing in an 800-seat theater, and afterwards, I led a jazz jam there from midnight to 6 a.m.,” said Robbins, an accomplished trumpet player, who before his service had played in bands in eastern Maine. “A friend of mine walked in one night with this gorgeous farang, which is Thai for white person. I mean, gorgeous. Her name was Marta.”
Marta Robbins — then Marta Benner — grew up all over the world with a family that worked for the State Department, living in exotic places such as Beirut and Cyprus. Her roots were in Maine, however — Washington County, specifically, with ancestry going back generations, though her grandfather eventually moved out West.
After a childhood spent moving around, she landed in Illinois as a teenager, which was the last place she lived before heading to Thailand to stay with her father, who was working at the American Embassy in Bangkok. At 20 years old, she taught English to Thai students.
“I was on a break from college [at East Illinois State University], and I had stayed in Bangkok beyond the summer. I loved it in Bangkok. It was fabulous,” she said. “I had a friend who said she had someone she’d like me to meet. She said he was really funny and a lot of fun … and he was. He made me laugh. And then he asked me out.”
“I invited her to go see some show with elephants, but she couldn’t do that night, so she came to see Ann-Margret with me the next night,” said Steve Robbins. “Afterwards, we went to see a band. The bass player had a bass line that I loved for the song ‘My Funny Valentine,’ and I would sing it with just him. We were at the club on Sukhumvit Road, we had a couple of pops, and I sang it for her.”
The pair walked home afterward to her house, just a few blocks down the street. Both were feeling a bit giddy. He said goodbye at her doorstep and turned to walk home.
“And as she went through the door, I said, ‘Excuse me!’” Steve Robbins said. “I said, ‘Is this it?’ And she said, ‘Yup. Goodnight.’ I went through the gate and went out in the street and said, out loud, ‘Son of a bitch, I’m getting married.’ And that was 43 years ago. And that is exactly how it happened.”
“I just knew he was the one,” said Marta Robbins. “It was that easy. … He asked me to marry him two weeks after we met.”
Steve Robbins, a 1964 graduate of Brewer High School and the youngest of eight siblings, planned to move back to Maine after getting out of the service. Marta Robbins, though her roots were in Maine, had never been to the state — though she’d dreamed about moving to Maine to be an artist.
“I read a book as a child that took place in Maine, and it sounded so wonderful. I wanted to be an artist living on the coast,” said Robbins, who is a painter and art educator.
They got married about eight months later on Aug. 14, 1971, in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, the city where most of her family was located.
The day after the wedding, the couple drove to Maine. Brewer, to be exact, to the little apartment they had just rented on North Main Street. Brewer, at that time, was a rough and tumble mill town. Not exactly the coast of Maine, and light-years from the city life she had experienced in places such as Beirut and Bangkok.
“When she came across the bridge, she gave me this look, like, ‘What have you gotten me into?’” Steve Robbins said.
“But then we went out into the countryside in Orrington, and I thought, ‘This is more like it,’” Marta Robbins said.
Steve and Marta Robbins have three grown children — Christopher, born in 1972; Micah, born in 1974; and Zachary, born in 1984. The couple also has two grandsons. Steve and Marta Robbins moved across the bridge to Bangor in the mid-1970s and have lived there ever since. Both are retired — Steve after years spent working in advertising and marketing, and Marta after decades teaching art in Bangor schools. They celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2011.
Note: Steve and Marta Robbins are reporter Emily Burnham’s in-laws — they are parents to her husband, Zachary Robbins.