Justice Betty Roberts' Legacy

June 28th, 2011

The weekend brought word of Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts’ death at 88. She has inspired many on our campus, and in 1984 she received the University of Oregon’s Distinguished Service Award.

Jan and I heard of Justice Roberts’ legacy soon after we arrived in Oregon. And last spring Jan had the good fortune of meeting her when she hosted a luncheon at McMorran House as an opportunity for some students, faculty, and community members to talk with Justice Roberts.

Justice Roberts was a trail blazer throughout her life. She cleared new paths, especially for women, from serving on the school board, to the Oregon State Legislature, and as the first woman on Oregon’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

In her memoir, With Grit and by Grace, Justice Roberts writes of the discrimination she encountered at different stages of her life, including at the University of Oregon. She earned a master’s degree in political science from the UO, but was discouraged by a faculty member from pursuing her doctorate because of her age and gender. She writes that as a result of that experience, she decided to pursue a career in law, ultimately earning a law degree from Lewis and Clark College.

Justice Roberts’ persistence in identifying and pushing back against discrimination sets an example for all, and her many contributions have made Oregon a better state. Her passing reminds us of the difference that one person can make.

Her story also reminds us that this institution continues to evolve, and we must seize every opportunity to improve how we serve our students. No matter what department or office you work in, every interaction we have could make a difference in the life of a future, current, or former student.

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