ON THE TRAIL - The story of Robin and Mattie Adair - A memoir with letters

on the trail cover

Inspiring and insightful, this is the remarkable life story of Robin Adair, the author of Up from Childhood, and of his courageous wife, Mattie.  Much of the memoir is revealed through Robin’s letters including one to his little daughter, Ruth Joy, just before he died. 

Ruth weaves a narrative around her father’s eloquent writings using fascinating historical documents with anecdotes, memories and letters from family and friends. 

Robin was always ‘on the trail’, searching for spiritual and intellectual answers to life’s mysteries and in the words of an old friend, “He packed enough goodness into forty-five years to equal twenty average men”. Just before Robin died, another acquaintance wrote, “This gallant and noble spirit has only a few more days to be with us… I have never seen more courage in facing the pathway that leads beyond to the last campfire”.  And when dying, Robin paid tribute to Mattie’s “sterling quality: brave, poised, practical and even gay in heart… the most precious of companions”. 

On the Trail is a heart-warming memoir in which the reader will share Robin and Mattie’s journey through life and be inspired by their love, faith, humility, fortitude and wisdom. 

In Store Price: $29.95 
Online Price:   $28.95

ISBN: 978-1-921574-71-9  
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:346
Genre: Non Fiction



Author: Ruth Adair Lambert
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2010
Language: English



Ruth Adair Lambert was born in New Zealand and moved to America at the age of three. She grew up in New York and was educated there until she attended university in Indiana (Hanover, B.A.) and California (UCLA, Teaching Credential). Following many years in Los Angeles Ruth immigrated with her husband and two daughters to Western Australia where she now lives in the hills east of Perth.


A soul so fiery sweet can never die,

But lives and loves and works through all eternity.

John Oxenham

I have a letter from my father, Robin Adair, the only one he ever wrote to me. It was written when I was five years old, the month before he died. Each year on his birthday – which was in April – my mother read it aloud to me. I remember how hard it was to hold back the tears, for my father had written that he was going to be happy, so I should be happy. “Do not always be sad,” he said. But I was sad without him and could not understand how he could be happy when he was not with us. Even as a six year old I knew how important this small ceremony was for my mother. I knew she wanted to help me to remember my daddy, so though my throat throbbed with the effort, I did not cry.

This is the letter:

In a New York Hospital

July 1940

My own Ruth Joy,

When Mother reads this to you, I shall have left you all, never again to see you, not in this world.

People will say I have gone to “heaven”. Now heaven is wherever God, the Heavenly Father is - and He is everywhere. So I shall be everywhere. Like the wind which you can feel blowing softly upon your cheek - the wind which you cannot see, so God, the unseen Father, is near. And I am with Him. Therefore I shall always be, like the unseen wind, close to you.

Do not always be sad because I am not present with you.  Remember I am going to be very happy. So you be happy. Be the best girl that you can be.  You can be so only by pleasing the Heavenly Father. Love Mother and always listen to what she says.

Goodbye, little Blondie, and someday we will meet again in Heaven.


There was nothing he could have done, or left to me, that could have come close to assuming the importance of that letter. He had written it especially for me. For a long time I believed he would return to us, but gradually his words helped me to accept that he was never coming back; not to comfort me when I became tangled in my bed covers trying to escape a nightmare, nor to tease me by asking if I’d spilled ink on a puppy (a Dalmation), nor to laugh and hug me while he shampooed my hair while moulding it into fanciful sudsy crowns or horns.

With my mother’s courageous spirit and gentle guidance, through her stories and photos he was close to me, just as his letter said he would be. Growing up in New York City, with my little sister, Virginia Anne, and big brother Lincoln, far from the friendly little country town in New Zealand we had so recently left, it was as though a mother’s and a father’s love and wisdom protected and nurtured us all.

When our beautiful little mother died in 1994 at the age of ninety-six, we found among her things a precious heritage; a ribbon-bound sachet of letters my father had written to her seventy-five years earlier. Shortly after they had become engaged my father left New Zealand to study in the United States. He was twenty-four and she was twenty. We were thrilled to discover these letters, lovingly treasured and preserved. I am sure they were a ‘gift’ she knew we would love and continue to treasure.

When I discovered romance as a teenager I often plied my mother with questions about their engagement, asking: “Why was it so long?”, “How could she bear a separation of two long years?” And, “Wasn’t it torture to have to wait weeks and weeks for letters to arrive by ship from America?”

My father’s letters to my mother beautifully express the joy of love mingled with the pain of separation. Written with tenderness to the one with whom he wanted to share his life, they describe his many and varied experiences as he explored and reaffirmed his faith and his belief in the human spirit while he searched for the path to his life’s work. There are probing observations of the people he met and the lifestyles, ethics and history-making events of the day. As meaningful today as they were almost a century ago are his thoughts on international brotherhood. He loved the natural world and his descriptions bring scenes vividly to life. His financial struggles and comparisons between the United States and New Zealand and are as insightful as they are humorous.

There are also letters my mother kept from the time of his illness twenty years later; letters to each other and to his brothers and sisters, prayers and poems he wrote from hospital, and letters received from relatives and friends. They bear witness to his abiding love and to his faith that had not dimmed with time and illness, but had only grown stronger.

As I started to work on this book a wonderful surprise arrived from Edie Rodger, a cousin from Sydney I had never met but with whom I had been corresponding. It was a tiny, battered bit of paper her father had treasured for fifty years (and she had kept for another fifty), a letter written by my father when he was a small boy to his oldest brother who was in South Africa as a soldier in the Boer War. Even when he was very young my father’s love of family and his budding faith emerged as the keystones of the life he was to live.

As this book began to take shape my sister remembered a packet of letters given to her many years ago by our Uncle Ray. They were written by our father during his second round of study in the United States to his youngest brother who was working his way around the world. They describe wonderfully another era and meant that I had letters written by my father from every decade of his life!

Initially, I had hoped to ‘do a book’ with just the 1918-1920 letters, which I found so intriguing and beautifully written. Perhaps I would add some background and photographs, but as other material found its way to me I knew that I must share more of his writings and his life. It was not a long life, nor a perfect one, but it was a full and spirited life, shaped by his extraordinary faith, rounded by his boundless enthusiasm and sense of adventure, and enriched by the great love he shared with my mother, his family and his friends.

Weaving together my father’s letters and writings with my mother’s memoirs and poems, family documents and tributes paid to both my parents has been a rich and rewarding experience; at times painful, more often joyful, sometimes awe-inspiring. It has opened doors for me, helped me to understand and come a little closer to the mother I loved so much and the father I scarcely knew.

Though I do not share the faith that brought comfort and joy to my parents throughout their lives, I have come to the grateful realisation that most of the things I value and believe in were born of their philosophy, their humanity and from the things they loved: family, friends, the natural world, literature, theatre and writing, “delight in the commonplace... books, firesides, sunsets, friendly faces”.

In his book Up from Childhood published after his death, my father wrote:

          It behoves every parent to act in the light of the truth that what goes into the first of life goes into the whole of life.

His legacy, I know now, was great.

Allan T, McNaughton, Convenor of the Publications Committee of the Council in 1946, included these passages in his introduction to Up from Childhood:

Greatly treasured is a letter he wrote to me from hospital, three weeks before his passing. In one sense, it is almost too hallowed to quote, yet the man and his message are such that this must be shared:

'In language natural to us who have camped out, I’m building my last bivouac on the Great Divide; but there will be no sunset glow and a romantic resting place at the trail’s end. Instead, it is right into the sunrise of a new day that I’ll be venturing. The trails yonder may be unknown to us; but when the last glow of my campfire flickers out, then there will be a handclasp, spirit with spirit will meet, and with the Eternal Christ, who sees beyond the skyline and never makes mistakes, I’ll go marching on.

'A month ago while tossing on this bed of my dying, God’s peace came in a never-ebbing tide, and ever since, despite everything, He has fulfilled all His promises, and the joy of His presence has been a profoundly real experience... The fact of death is settled, and its sting extracted, and now, if I dare share this sacred thought, it’s facing the sunrise, assured of one thing: His grace is sufficient, not more and not less. Who can want more?’

Part of a letter from my mother to the publishers was also included in the introduction:

          In some ways his dying was the most wonderful part of his life... For about two months before the end, he knew that his days were numbered, and it seemed as if he felt there was work still to be done. There was no thought for himself, but much planning for the comfort of his family, and many thoughts for his friends near and far. He grew daily weaker in body, but his spirit shone ever more brightly... Friends came to comfort and offer sympathy. They left, having themselves been comforted and blessed.


Allan McNaughton continued:

          At his funeral service there was quoted part of a poem by John Oxenham, written about James Chalmers, the missionary hero of Papua. To all who knew Robin Adair, these verses must seem singularly appropriate:

‘Great Heart is dead, they say!

What is death to such a one as Great Heart?

One sigh perchance, for work unfinished here: -Then a swift passing to a mightier sphere,

New joys, perfected powers, the vision clear,

And all the amplitude of heaven to work,

The work he held so dear.

Great Heart is dead, they say!

Nor dead nor sleeping! He lives on! His name

Shall kindle many a heart to equal flame.

The fire he lighted shall burn on and on,

Till all the darkness of the lands be gone,

And all the kingdoms of the earth be won,

And one.

A soul so fiery sweet can never die,

But lives and loves and works through all eternity.’


Mr McNaughton concludes the introduction with these words:

A thought which Robin often used in his work with boys was the idea of passing the torch. May this book be as his torch, which he has passed on, now that his part of the earthly race is run. May it light the path of all who read it, and may they in turn carry the torch to other parents, children and youth.


Before my mother died she gave me my father’s manuscript in its original, brown folder. The cover is starting to crumble but his handwriting is strong and clear. It warms my heart for it reads:

Manuscript of my book on children:

‘Up from Childhood’ for Ruth Joy.

My hope is that this book will also ‘carry his torch’ and ‘light the path of all who read it’.

Ruth Joy Adair Lambert

Up from Childhood was published for The National Council of Religious Education of Australia by the Publications Committee and printed by Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty Ltd in Melbourne, Australia in 1948.


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