Remembering Robin Gorton, Teacher and Puppeteer

By Janet Weiss
Friday August 03, 2007

Robin Gorton was a favorite teacher in the Berkeley Unified School District. With her quick smile, storyteller’s magic, and seemingly unlimited number of puppets, Mrs. Gorton performed hundreds of puppet shows for kindergarten students enrolled in the Cragmont and Oxford schools. 

Over the years she collected thousands of puppets of every description. Brilliantly colored birds, scary spiders, cats, dogs, fish and sea creatures, prides of lions, zebras and exotic animals of all kinds filled her shelves. Every Friday she set up her puppets in the front of the classroom, and would made them perform for students from a story book as part of the readiness for reading program—“reading along” as she acted out the story. 

Mrs. Gorton started her 28-year-long career as a preschool teacher in the Berkeley Grove Parent Nursery. She got kids excited about learning through craftmaking and cooking. She co-authored a successful cookbook for children called Crunchy Bananas that introduced countless children to cooking. After Grove Parent Nursery closed she moved to Malcolm X and Oxford schools where she taught the fourth and second grades.  

After retiring in 1996 she became a regular volunteer at the Cragmont School and focused on puppeteering. She was eagerly greeted by students when she came in for her weekly puppet show every week.  

Mrs. Gorton came from a family of teachers. Her mother, Thelma Kestin, taught preschool and her daughter, Laura West, teaches kindergarten in the Berkeley Unified School District and played host to the weekly puppet shows.  

Mrs. Gorton was a supporter of the arts throughout her life. Born and raised in Berkeley, she attended Berkeley High and participated in the school plays and variety shows. She started folkdancing as a teenager, and majored in it at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., graduating in 1961. She was a regular supporter of the California Repertory , the Berkeley Repertory, the Aurora and the Shotgun Players theaters. 

Mrs. Gorton died suddenly of natural causes on July 3. She is survived by her children Laura West and David Gorton, her father Irv Kestin, her brother Peter Rich, daughter-in-law Janet Weiss, son-in-law Neale Miller and innumerable friends. 

On Sunday, Aug. 5, those who wish to say their goodbyes to Mrs. Gorton—fellow teachers, parents and the children she taught—are invited to join her family and family of friends at the Albany Public Library, 1246 Marin St., Albany, for a memorial, to be held from 2:30– 4:30 p.m.