Glenn Roberts, who played an instrumental role in the Japanese American redress campaign, passed away on Aug. 20 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease. He died peacefully at home with his family.
“A devoted husband and father, Mr. Roberts had brilliant careers as a reporter, congressional aide, lobbyist, business owner, and painter,” his family said. “Roberts never let his illness define him. His courage and commitment to living his life to the fullest is an inspiration to all who knew him.”
Born July 13, 1947 in Bayonne, N.J., Roberts graduated from Oberlin College. From there he spent several years in North Carolina as a reporter and columnist for **The Raleigh Times.** His next stop was San Francisco, where he ran a congressional campaign. After that he began painting, a long-held desire. He would later delight his daughters with stories of living in the Haight-Ashbury, painting by day and driving a taxi by night.
Roberts was persuaded to re-enter the world of politics representing the Micronesian islands of Palau in negotiations for sovereignty with the U.S. State Department. He was part of a team that included John Kenneth Galbraith. Roberts then became legislative director to U.S. Rep. Norman Y. Mineta (D-San Jose) and later to Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.).
When Roberts began his five-year tenure as Mineta’s legislative director, he was asked by the congressman to draft the bill that ultimately became H.R. 442, named in honor of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, offering historic redress to 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II. Mineta himself was interned with his family as a 10-year-old child.
Roberts’ strategy in drafting the bill was one of the key factors of its successful passage. He also crafted the name of the bill, the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, to highlight the fact that the cause was about the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans being infringed.
“It made for a much stronger bill because Japanese Americans had lost their full rights under the Constitution,” Roberts said. “If they could lose their constitutional rights in 1942, the Congress [could] restore them in 1988.”
Roberts remained grateful to Mineta, who later became U.S. secretary of commerce and secretary of transportation, and others in the Japanese American community for the opportunity to work on the landmark bill, which he called a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The Japanese American Citizens League recognized his “courageous leadership in promoting civil and human rights” by presenting him with the Gov. Ralph Carr Award during the 2013 JACL National Convention, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of the bill’s enactment.
Carr advocated for the constitutional rights of Japanese Americans and encouraged the state of Colorado to welcome Japanese Americans following Pearl Harbor. The prestigious award honors outstanding leaders who personify his legacy of working towards racial justice.
Roberts married his beloved wife, Katharine Ferguson Roberts, in 1983 in the Bethesda garden of his brother and sister-in-law, where they met. The marriage was “arranged” by Roberts’ sister-in-law Cokie Roberts, Kitty‘s friend and colleague at NPR. In 1989, Kitty gave birth to twin daughters, prompting Glenn to leave Capitol Hill to work in government relations.
Roberts began working as a lobbyist for a law firm managing trade associations. After working for the firm for ten years, he bought it and renamed it the Roberts Group. He spearheaded many successes for the flavor and fragrance industries, but his colleagues remember him most for his personal manner, integrity, and the value he placed in mutual trust. He once remarked that the work he and his colleagues did at The Roberts Group was important, but not as important as the people they worked with.
After his retirement in 2010, Roberts returned to painting. He went on to show his work in local galleries. His art was an invaluable form of self-expression as his Parkinson’s disease progressed. In his own words: “As I struggle to communicate, my colors are getting brighter, and my figures are getting bolder.”
“Despite his eclectic and successful career, nothing was more important to Mr. Roberts than his family. He is remembered as a funny, devoted, and loving father and a wonderful husband. He shared his love of reading, history, gardening, and opera with his children along with pithy, practical, and often very funny guidance on life,” his family said.
Roberts is survived by his wife Kitty Roberts, his daughters Abby Roberts and Maggie Knight, his granddaughter Marie Knight, as well as his brother Steven V. Roberts of Bethesda and sister Laura Roberts of Cambridge, Mass.
His life will be celebrated when everyone can once again gather together.
Donations in his memory can be made to the Heart Mountain Wyoming Foundation, 1539 Road 19, Powell, WY 82435. Info: www.heartmountain.org