When Dr. Edward Roberts (LLD’03) received his honorary degree from Memorial, he said, “Memorial University of Newfoundland is one of the greatest achievements wrought by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador during the centuries of our long and troubled history.”
He would know. At the same ceremony, he was described as “a man who has been part of all our histories.”
From lawyer to politician, from chair of Memorial’s Board of Regents to lieutenant-governor, Dr. Roberts absorbed, reflected – and lived – the colourful and tumultuous history of Newfoundland and Labrador.
His 50 years of service to the province made him a pillar in the legal and public communities across Newfoundland and Labrador.
Cherished friend and supporter
Dr. Roberts not only thought of Memorial as one of the great institutions of the province, but contributed to the university’s success in many ways.
In fact, he was instrumental in the development of the medical school, which he called, “the most important development of medicine in Newfoundland since John Clinch first administered Jenner’s anti-smallpox vaccine in Trinity in 1798.”
He witnessed the debates around the value and possibility of establishing a medical school; he was minister of Health when the first students began their studies there in 1969.
He was still the minister in 1971 when it was announced that government would phase out the old General Hospital in St. John’s and replace it with a new $24-million hospital on the St. John’s campus, and when the creation of a Faculty of Medicine was announced.
From 1997-2002, he served as chair of the Board of Regents, during which time he was committed to extending Memorial’s built infrastructure and innovative programs in St. John’s, Corner Brook, Bonne Bay and Harlow, helping to grow Memorial into what it is today.
But Dr. Roberts’ support of Memorial wasn’t merely an extension of his duties.
Support for the library
As a student of history, Dr. Roberts understood the value of the library as an important place for the preservation of that history.
As recently noted, he contributed many items to the Centre for Newfoundland Studies, which are a tremendous resource for researchers.
Most recently, a generous donation from Dr. Roberts funded the digitization of part of the Colonial Office 194 series — dispatches that were sent to the British board of trade and the secretary of state from the governor of Newfoundland from 1696-1844.
With reports relating to the fisheries, trade and defence, as well as a wide variety of legal matters and the originals housed in England, local scholars now have a rich and fascinating resource at their fingertips.
And his generosity will help future scholars as The Honourable Dr. Edward Roberts Library Fund will support the activities required to catalogue materials.
Such was Dr. Roberts commitment to Memorial, he donated two 1982 Mouton Rothschilds valued at $1,500 each for a fundraiser.
The two bottles of wine were given to him by Dr. Edmund de Rothschild, a longtime friend of the university, with the intention of one to be enjoyed at a Roberts’ family occasion and the other to be used to benefit Harlow Campus.
Instead, Dr. Roberts donated them both to a special Wine of the Century event, where 180 guests attended.
A friend of students, a student himself
In 2006 he completed a master of arts degree in history at Memorial. In 2009 he was named Alumnus of the Year.
And each year, two students benefit from his philanthropy.
The Katharine Roberts Memorial Scholarship, established with his brother Douglas in memory of their mother, is awarded annually to a student in the bachelor of nursing (collaborative) program.
The other is The Peter Cashin Prize established in memory of Peter Cashin. It is awarded annually to the best piece of scholarly work on the history of political economy of the province published in the preceding calendar year.
Memorial University benefitted from Dr. Roberts’ intelligence, generosity and dedication to public service for many years.
[We] shall not look upon his like again. — Hamlet