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PATTY ROBERTS
12/9/2010 6:16:51 AM    [ Flag as Inappropriate ]

PATTY ROBERTS
by Robert A. Mills

When the phone rings after midnight, it is never pleasant news. It was about 1:30 the morning of December 4 that Dave Roberts called us to say his wife and our dear friend, Patty, had, after a long illness, passed away at home with him and their children, Julia and Oliver, at her side. Although long expected, the reality was devastating.

For unexplained reasons, I suddenly thought of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, the Confederate general who, when told by the army surgeon he would not survive the day, said, “Good. I always wanted to die on a Sunday.”

Undoubtedly, many eulogies will be delivered at Patty’s memorial service(s), and, as usual, it will be difficult for this octogenarian to recall what was said.

For one thing, the idea of a “eulogy” has never sat well with me. Despite its classical Greek origins meaning “good words,” it is normally used only on the occasion of death and funerals. I don’t remember the last time I heard a eulogy at a baptism or a wedding where it belongs. It’s my contention a eulogy, as we’ve come to know it, is totally inappropriate when discussing a departed friend.

In this case, the word “celebration” is intrinsically more appropriate. With Patty, life itself was a celebration. Although she graced our stage a mere three score years, the anticipation of her entrances, her lines, her gestures — yes, even her exit — was the stuff of great theater.

If talent were the sole criterion that delineates superlative theater, Patty had a supply so abundant that the reservoir was virtually untapped. She possessed what critics call “presence.” When she walked into a room, there was a neon quality about her that let you know instantly you were in the quiet splendor of a rare and unique persona. She was the embodiment of what theater is about.

She could sing, she could dance and she could speak the words. She could take a song with a pedestrian melody and mundane lyrics; she could take a line penned by the most inept scribbler, and transform either into a memberable soliloquy of simple elegance. The great hoofer, Ann Miller, once told her, I’m only a tapper with an average body — you have both a great body and are a great dancer! Also, a rarity among most of us, you can act!

Of course, many will say, “What could you expect? With a mother and teacher like Nancy St. James — not to mention a father, a St. Louis TV icon, like Cliff Scrivener — how could she be anything less than a superb thespian?” That is precisely what she was.

I first met Patty when she became Mrs. David Roberts, back in the dark ages of the ‘70s and ‘80s. Dave’s father and Patty’s father, and I, worked at WVET in Rochester NY for a number of years before Patty even met the younger Dave. My wife Christine and I remember well when the children were born — first Ollie, then Julia. They have both grown up now and have become the mooring buoys on which Dave’s ship of life is tethered. Those three need each other now more than ever. The ship has not sunk; it is merely tied up for a time to undergo renovation.

According to John, Chapter 5, people who have died will be resurrected. Jesus promises that those in tombs will come out, and Luke says they will live in Paradise. In Psalm 37 we read that the righteous will possess the earth, and will reside forever on it. Patty has a lot to look forward to. Would that all of us could be so fortunate!

We were frequent guests in the Roberts’s home on Cromwell Drive in Rochester, even though many years had passed since they lived abroad and Patty was making her mark in show business with a plethora of well-known stars too lengthy to innumerate here.

Later, enjoying much anticipated Christmas carol singing that was continued annually as festive gatherings at their home in metro Atlanta, they once took me in and let me live in their guest room before my own house was ready and my family had arrived. Always the perfect hosts, life was often renewed and refreshed for me on Big Oak Bend.

But Patty’s dominant role was yet to be cast. Not content with gracing the boards at every opportunity, or even signing on as a wife and mother, she suddenly reveled in a new part for which she had been called: her church.

She began her studies at the Colgate Rochester Divinity School, and we were present when she was ordained a deacon — and later a full-fledged priest — at the Episcopal Cathedral in Atlanta. At last, her name was up in lights on the marquee of the Theater of Life — she was the star she was destined to become: a priest, a bona fide reverend at the Stage Door of Eternity!

It was a grand thing for an old reprobate such as I to have had his own personal Episcopal priest and religious mentor. Patty’s duties in that role, I’m happy to say, never, as they might have, interfered with our friendship. She did not wear her religion on her sleeve, and for that, a rarity among many Christians, she is to be commended.

Even as ill as she was, she rose to the occasion and was awarded my personal “Tony” for her uncanny performance at the marriage of Christine’s and my youngest daughter, Alex, to Phillip Faucette, son of the parish deacon.

Later that evening, at the reception, Patty coined a phrase I have never forgotten: privately, she confided to me that the wedding of Alex and Phillip was a highlight of her life — as was marrying David and giving birth to Ollie and Julia. She said, “What a privilege to have known five of God’s 100 most beautiful and wonderful people!” (That remark will stay with me forever, but I have no idea who the other ninety-five are.)

Although I was never privileged to know any of the kids who came under her wing as chaplain of Holy Innocents School, I know that many of them will read this, and that their parents carry a special place in their hearts for Reverend Patty and her contribution to molding those youngsters into worthwhile Christian Americans.

If you'd care to drop a note to Dave, Oliver and Julia, you can contact them at either drob3651.aol or 4748 Big Oak Bend, Marietta GA 30062.

(Part Two will be posted next week)


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