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Elliott Phirman Roberts ’39

A picture of Elliott Roberts

Elliott Phirman Roberts ’39, August 21, 2007, in Washington, D.C., from heart failure. Elliott received a BA from Reed in political science. During World War II, he served with the U.S. Navy on the USS Spencer in the Pacific. In 1953, he earned a PhD in political science from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He began his career with the Tennessee Valley Authority and worked in the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Housing and Human Services, and the Department of Energy. He was also a consultant to the Ford Foundation in the 1960s in Ghana. Elliott was a founding adviser of Institute of Public Relations in Yemen in Sanaa during the ’70s under the United Nations Development Programme. He taught at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University. After being interviewed for the Reed Oral History Project, Elliott commented, “What I was not prepared for was the conceptual work that went on in my own mind as I reconstructed those years. I can report that there is in my finished transcript a fairly unified theme of growing maturity and character development that has surprised me.” His interviewer, Jean Tibbitts Thiebaux ’57, met him when he taught her to sail, through the Wanderlusters Sailing Club. In an unusual turnaround, he then interviewed her. Relative to this and to her friendship with Elliott, Jean was present at a parting ceremony and shared this description: “Last Saturday a group of us who knew Elliott: offspring, plus some who had worked and sailed with him, and some who had only had the opportunity to sail in his company, went out on the Chesapeake Bay in three sailboats, to release his ashes (as he wished) and throw flowers around them as they spread through the water. It was an extraordinary day and a powerful experience, in the company of many of those who held Elliott in the highest esteem. The weather was perfect for our mission and the bay was resplendent with the white sails of a regatta, as we bade farewell to our good friend.” Survivors include his wife of 68 years, Sue Abraham Roberts '40; four daughters; five grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and a brother. Another brother, Norman P. Roberts '49, also graduated from Reed.

Appeared in Reed magazine: February 2008

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