SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Salt Lake City Cemetery is said to have over 100,000 different memorials on its grounds at the intersection of 4th Avenue and N Street. Many former presidents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as several U.S. Senators and Congressmen have made a portion of the 250-acre plot their final resting place.
Matthew Stanford Robison is buried there as well.
While he didn’t lead a faithful congregation or a population of citizens in his short life – Matthew passed at the age of 10 – his grave and legacy have been an inspiration for millions worldwide.
Looking at his gravestone, it’s easy to see why. Above a square piece of granite with his name and the dates of his birth and death, is a bronze sculpture of a boy departing a worn wheelchair and reaching skyward as he makes an ascent to a higher plane.
While no explanation is required to understand the symbolism of the statue, Matthew’s father, Ernest, who designed and created the statue, shares with ABC4.com that the grave was meant to represent his feelings of Matthew escaping the limitations of his chair and heading to a place free of physical limitations.
“I wanted to do it as a tribute to him and other kids that are like him,” Robinson explains.
The poem on the back of the gravestone makes that clear as well.
In memory of those
Who walk more closely
in the hands of God
And who more humbly
lift the world inspiring
the hearts of men
With the legacy complete
In love, they return
home again to God
To behold his face
and be wholly healed
In joy forever more
When Robison, a longtime expert in biomedical engineering as well as an artist, conceived the statue, he had no idea what an impact it would make on others. However, as the statue came together, it was clear that it was an extremely moving piece of art.
Robison recalls taking the clay sculpture to a bronze foundry to be cast into a permanent fixture in 2000. When the clay figure of Matthew was taken out of the box, all of the foundry workers stopped what they were doing and stared at the sculpture for a while, transfixed by the powerful imagery.
The statue has had several rounds of worldwide exposure online as well, going viral on platforms like Reddit and Instagram several times over the past few years.
“Every week I get people inquiring about it,” Robison says. “A couple of people are doing statues like that with their family. People show such an interest in it.”
Although he lived a life with many physical limitations, after an oxygen shortage at the moment of his birth caused severe brain damage, Matthew has had a profound effect on many, beyond the emotion his grave brings.
Although doctors predicted after his birth that he wouldn’t live more than a few hours, Matthew proved them wrong repeatedly throughout his 3,804-day life. Robison credits the love and concern that he and his wife, Anneke, as well as Matthew’s five siblings, gave to Matthew as the primary reasons why he was able to bet the odds for so long. Despite his challenges, Matthew lived a happy life. In family pictures, including on trips to the Grand Canyon and Washington D.C., Matthew is always smiling.
“He just loved people,” Robison gushes of Matthew. “When he was around people, he would smile. Even though he couldn’t talk or move, you just knew he loved to be around people.”
People loved to be around him as well. When Matthew was in school, classmates would frequently bring their parents to meet him at parent-teacher conferences or back to school night. In fact, Matthew and Robisons, along with other families with children in similar conditions, were instrumental in legislature that helped disabled students go to a traditional school setting to interact with their peers.
“He was just one of them, one of their friends,” Robison says when remembering meeting Matthew’s classmates at school. “And it was because of that legislation.”
Nowadays, Matthew’s legacy continues through the Robisons’ nonprofit foundation, Ability Found, which works to provide mobility and adaptive equipment to those who need them. Working with a small crew of four, the Ability Found assisted more than 1,500 in the last year alone, according to Robison. To help with funding, Ability Found sells smaller-scale pewter replicas of Matthew’s monument, as well as one stylized with a female child, on the foundation’s website. A silhouette of the statue also serves as Ability Found’s logo.
While it’s been more than 20 years since Matthew’s passing, his legacy lives on through his family’s foundation and a lasting symbol and tribute found in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
To his father, Matthew’s accomplishments have been fitting.
“He was a perfect person. I don’t know of anything he did wrong. When he was sick or had problems, he never lost his patience or complained to us or anything like that. He was just really, really loving and an exceptional little boy.”