Patricia A. Roberts

EPA lawyer was a Maryland Historical Society volunteer and an acknowledged expert on Maryland silversmithing

December 21, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Patricia A. Roberts, a retired Environmental Protection Agency lawyer and an acknowledged expert on Maryland silver who volunteered at the Maryland Historical Society, died of multiple myeloma Dec. 10 at George Washington University Hospital in Washington. She was 66.

Ms. Roberts was born in Baltimore and raised on Baker Street. She was a 1960 graduate of Western High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Morgan State University in 1964.

After college, Ms. Roberts began working at the National Institutes of Health's laboratory on cerebral metabolism in Bethesda.

In 1977, she joined the EPA office of general counsel as a chemist assisting in pesticides litigation.

After graduating from law school at George Washington University in 1978, Ms. Roberts became a staff attorney with the EPA's office of general counsel. In 1999, she was promoted to associate general counsel for the pesticides and toxic substances law office.

During her tenure with the EPA, Ms. Roberts handled many high-profile cases involving genetically engineered materials, human-subject testing and toxic pesticides, including one that is a component of Agent Orange, the Vietnam-era herbicide.

At her 2005 retirement, Ms. Roberts was presented the EPA's Distinguished Career Service Award in recognition of her "dependability, creativity, cheerfulness and unceasing dedication to environmental protection."

"Pat was a friend to many and a colleague to all, and she made significant contributions to improving our nation's environment," wrote Stephen L. Johnson, EPA administrator.

Ms. Roberts, who lived in Washington, was an avid collector of maps, books, antique American country-style furniture and silver, especially silver that had been produced by Baltimore silversmiths.

After retiring, Ms. Roberts commuted two days a week from her Washington home to Baltimore, where she put in long days volunteering at the Maryland Historical Society on West Monument Street.

"She'd work on Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. or 10 a.m. and would leave at 6 p.m. with the guards. She was really like an employee," said Jeannine Disviscour, deputy director of the Maryland Historical Society.

After conducting research on the society's noted decoy collection, Ms. Roberts was able to indulge her love of researching Maryland-made silver.

"She did all of the research for Served in Style: Silver Collection of the Maryland Historical Society exhibition three years ago, Ms. Disviscour said.

"We had a grand time," she said. "Together we chose the objects, designed the exhibit and even polished the silver, all the while chatting about our favorite silversmiths and silver patterns."

Ms. Roberts also had a deep knowledge of Maryland genealogy.

"She loved and knew it, plus - because she had grown up here - had a great sense of Maryland history, and we all benefited from her research," she said.

Ms. Roberts had just been invited to serve as a member of the museum's committee on acquisitions.

"This was in acknowledgment of her many contributions. It'll be hard to believe that she won't be coming through the door next Monday," Ms. Disviscour said. "Pat's legacy is not only what she contributed but how she inspired others to get involved."

Robert W. Rogers, executive director of the historical society, said, "Pat's commitment came through in all things she touched at the Maryland Historical Society and also in those touched by her personally.

He added: "For this, we are truly indebted."

Fletcher Roberts, her brother, who lives in Hoboken, N.J., and is an editor in the culture department of The New York Times, said his sister appointed herself family historian.

Ms. Roberts assiduously researched her family's genealogy, studied family scrapbooks, census records, and court and historical society documents. She enjoyed planning family reunions to share what she had learned.

"She was tireless about this stuff, and I think that kind of research appealed to the lawyer in her," Mr. Roberts said.

Ms. Roberts philanthropic interests centered on Morgan, which she felt "helped launch her career and she wanted to give something back," her brother said.

Plans for a memorial service for Ms. Roberts, who donated her body to the Maryland Anatomy Board, were incomplete.

Also surviving are her mother, Roberta G. Roberts of Baltimore; a nephew; and five nieces.

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