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University Mourns Passing of Professor Roberts

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Prof. James Roberts
Long time University of Kansas faculty member and research leader Jim Roberts died Saturday, Sept. 5, 2009, of cancer.

Roberts, a 1966 electrical engineering alumnus, returned to the university in 1990 after a noteworthy career in industry and took on a variety of leadership roles at KU.

“On behalf of the entire University of Kansas community, I convey our condolences to the family of Jim Roberts,” said Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little. “Our hearts go out to them, and we join them in mourning his loss.”

Roberts was born on March 11, 1944, in Vandalia, Ill., the son of James and Marjorie Toad Roberts, both of whom preceded him in death.

He grew up in Chanute, where he graduated from Chanute High School in 1962 as student body president. He attended KU, where he joined Sigma Nu fraternity and became commander and graduated first in his class.

He moved to the Boston area, where he worked for RCA on NASA’s Apollo moon project. During this time, he also attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1968.

In 1969, Roberts moved to the Silicon Valley area, where he worked in the aerospace industry until 1983. While in northern California, he obtained a doctorate in electrical engineering from Santa Clara University.

In 1983, he moved to the Denver area, where he took over management of a major aerospace project for TRW Inc., now part of Northrop Grumman. He eventually became the manager of TRW-Denver. 
In 1990, Mr. Roberts fulfilled a lifelong dream and returned to Lawrence to become professor and chairman of the electrical engineering department at KU. Key among his achievements was integrating the Computer Science program, previously part of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, into the School of Engineering to form the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1995.

Beginning in January 1998, he served as associate vice chancellor for research and public service and later as associate vice provost. He was the vice provost for research from 2003 until 2007. In 2007, he returned to teaching as a full-time professor. During his time at KU, he also served as the president and chief operating officer of the KU Center for Research Inc. and on Sen. Pat Roberts’ Advisory Committee on Science, Technology and the Future.

“Jim Roberts was a strong advocate for research during his 10 years of leadership at the KU Center for Research,” said Steve Warren, vice provost for research and graduate studies. “The development of KU’s west campus owes much to his vision, especially the planning and construction of the Multidisciplinary Research Building and the Structural Biology Center. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, a merger that brought KU’s missions of teaching and scholarship more closely together. Jim loved his alma mater, and the entire KU research community joins me in mourning his loss.”

Faculty and staff in the School of Engineering also expressed sadness at the loss. 
“Jim will be missed. His work at the School of Engineering helped benefit a generation of students in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science,” said Stuart Bell, dean of the School of Engineering. “We keep his wife, Carol, and his family in our minds, and we are grateful for his contributions to the school.”

Among Robert’s numerous other professional, civic, and charitable activities, he was a founding board member of the Douglas County ECO2 committee and the Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority. He also served as president of the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Denver, president of the Noon Kiwanis in Lawrence, and a fellow in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Mr. Roberts enjoyed reading, genealogy, collecting Russian stamps and spending time with family and friends at Grand Lake in Oklahoma. He was particularly proud of his personal library, his ability to mix a great martini and his family.

He married his childhood sweetheart, Carol Diane Helton, in June 1965. She survives, of the home.
Other survivors include a son; a daughter; four grandchildren; a sister; his parents-in-law; brother-in-law; sister-in-law; and many cousins, nieces and nephews. The family suggests memorials to the James and Carol Roberts Fund, a scholarship fund for electrical engineering students at KU, through KU Endowment.

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
5th nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets: Colleges," Military Times