He was just settling in while I was upping sticks to go elsewhere. He was in his twenties whereas I was seventeen. At the various points in my life when I met him he always seemed to look older than he actually was. In appearance he reminded me of the 1916 leader Tom Clarke. He also had a wisdom beyond his years.
By December I was in Magilligan and Robbie was sentenced to ten years which saw him off to Long Kesh to serve out his sentence. I didn't see him after that until May 1978 when Cage 11 was being resurfaced and we were dispersed throughout the other cages for the day. I opted for 9, where I spent much of the day talking to Robbie and Gerry Kelly about revolution, something all three of us eventually stopped believing in.
The following month, my stay in the cages came to an end and I ended up on the blanket after what prison management alleged was an escape attempt. Back down in the Crum for another trial, I learned of Robbie being captured on active service. He had been released in 1979 and now in his early 30s was again wearing the operational gloves of the IRA. He later told me an informer had set him up.
He came up to the H Blocks in 1985, sentenced to 15 years, and over the next few years I got to know him quite well. Robbie was nobody's fool but it didn't save him from the range of mixes that would be devised. There is a story to be told about myself, Robbie and the late Cormac Mac Airt, but just not in an obituary. Cormac's mischievous sense of humour, delivered with a twinkle in his eye, lay at the heart of it.
Robbie always came to see the funny side of things but just not at the time. Once in 1988 he chased me round the snooker table after I had set him up for a Valentine's Day mix, him half laughing, half scowling, still in a state of uncertainty whether he wanted to hit me or hug me.
He was astute and acutely tuned into political developments. He did not share the Left wing perspective of many of his fellow prisoners, feeling that they needed to get a grip on how people in their daily lives thought and acted. He believed jail theorising was hot air and as things turned out he was on the money. He rebutted many of the observations, indeed criticisms, made from within the prison about the manner in which the republican struggle was being conducted outside. He had no time for jail moralising and was very much an iconoclast.
One thing that seriously annoyed him in a way that the mixes never did was the easy going attitude in the jail towards those who had upon their arrest agreed to turn state evidence against their comrades but later retracted when the shock of their arrest wore off and they had come to their senses. He would explain the painstaking effort that IRA volunteers had put in to building networks and resources only for years of endeavour to be be brought down in one fell swoop as a result of weakness or selfishness. While he would never be nasty to the people responsible, he was privately quite unforgiving. He was also caustic about people who loose talked, feeling there were huge consequences. The IRA for Robbie was not some form of recreation to be commented on much like a soccer match.
He and I didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things but he brought the benefit of experience to many discussions and was not afraid to stand up and say 'no' to something he considered a mad cap idea. Years later I would often reflect on the prudence of his perspective; how right he had been when others thought him ridiculous. There was nothing ridiculous about Robbie Laverty and he certainly did not suffer fools gladly.
After release it was only occasionally we would see each other, and chat when we did. My last memory of him was when he had a shop on the Andersonstown Road close to the Busy Bee. Myself and Tommy Gorman called in to say hello and he give us one of those you are up to no good type looks. He asked if we were looking him to put posters up in his shop window to advocate some event or promote some cause. I think at first he had difficulty believing we were just dropping by because we were in the area. But that's all there was to it. Robbie was a supporter of the Sinn Fein leadership whereas we were anything but. It caused no animosity between us. The one thing he gave out about was the difficulty of running a shop due to some of the anti-social elements that would hang about the vicinity.
Robbie continued on with his business only this time further up the Road beside Twinbrook where he was described 'the heart of the Dairy Farm and he still will be.' Last June as he was driving to work, his car was in a collision with another vehicle. It ended his life at 74.
Robbie's was a life of service, whether to the IRA as an armed activist or as a shopkeeper to the wider community. A softspoken and studious man, his contribution to the republican struggle saw him spend more than 12 years in prison.