Over the course of 138 productions he directed from the 1970s through 2009 at Kent State University at Stark, Phil Robb touched many, many people's lives — onstage, backstage, in the audiences and in his theater classes.

Mine was one of them. It was because of Phil's bold choices that I first saw "Angels in America," "Sweeney Todd," "Assassins," "Chicago," "Doubt," and so many others on a local stage, while reviewing them. I interviewed him many times over the years for Ticket preview stories, and he was unfailingly engaging and thoughtful and appreciative of publicity. His resonant voice, melodic laugh and warm smiles were memorable.

Phil died on Monday at age 75. He had been diagnosed with cancer in early December. "They told us he had eight to 18 months, and it was about one month," said his wife, Denise Robb. "He had one chemo session, he didn't get to another."

The couple, who married in 1990, met through theater. "He saw me in a Players Guild production, then we worked together at the guild in 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Annie," she said. 

After his retirement from Kent in 2009, Phil "longed to do some more (directing) work at the Kathleen Howland Theatre, but in his mind he'd lost the base of people that he could pull together," she said.

Interestingly, for all of his many directing credits at Kent Stark, "he felt it was mostly about teaching," Denise said. "He never really thought off himself as a director. He'd say, 'I'm always just a teacher, sometimes my students are on a stage."

Phil earned two Purple Hearts for his tour of duty in Vietnam, for which he had to postpone completion of his master's degree at Kent State University. In 1997, at Kent Stark, he directed "Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam," which was a passion project for him.

One of Robb's theater students was Carla Derr, who went on to found her own Contract Players Theatre and teach and direct theater at GlenOak High School.

"Several of us were in Phil's first classes at KSU. There was never a time in the theater that I did not revert to something he taught us." Derr said. "His love of theater and the written word was contagious. I wish we could darken the lights of Stark County like they do on Broadway. Surely, his light will shine forever on all of us."

Jon Tisevich, who gained some of his first stage experience in productions directed by Phil at Kent Stark, went on to become resident director, and an occasional actor, at the Players Guild Theatre.

"His passion for theater and living life to the fullest transformed me and redirected my path in life," Tisevich said. "I'm forever grateful for the time he took, outside of rehearsals and class, to pour into a skinny punk college student who thought he knew everything the passion he infused in each production."

No public services for Phil are planned.

One final anecdote. I remember running into Phil shortly after writing a particularly negative review of his then-latest production, unable to hide and feeling a little sheepish and awkward. He greeted me as warmly as if I'd just published a rave. That stuck with me.