In memoriam: Kent C. Roberts, professor emeritus and founding member of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine
Kent Clayton Roberts, one of the founders of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, died on Aug. 24, 2021. He was 95.
A native of New York, Roberts was the son of a veterinarian who followed in his father’s footsteps before becoming a national leader in his profession. Roberts joined the Navy out of high school and served in World War II before earning his D.V.M. from the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in 1951. He then opened a small and large animal practice in Purcellville, Virginia, which he operated for nearly 30 years.
Roberts held many leadership roles in the veterinary profession, including president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and president of the Virginia State Board of Veterinary Examiners. Roberts was appointed by then-Gov. John Dalton to serve as a member of the Virginia Veterinary Medicine Study Commission, which was charged with assessing the need and feasibility of a college of veterinary medicine in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Roberts would then become an important part of the college that arose from that commission and subsequent partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maryland.
Roberts arrived at Virginia Tech in 1980 as one of the first faculty members to join the new Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, coinciding with the matriculation of the college's charter class. Originally serving as director of Extension, he also was an important ambassador for the college during the early years, forging relationships with the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders and other organizations. Roberts also facilitated continuing education opportunities for practitioners, as well as organizations related to the veterinary profession.
Although Roberts served many important roles at the college, including interim director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, he found great joy in teaching the students at the college. His wit and wonderful sense of humor made him a favorite of the students. In recognition of all that he had done for the college, as well as his lifetime achievements, contributions to the profession, and philanthropic donations, Roberts was presented with the John N. Dalton Award, the college’s most prestigious honor, during the college’s commencement ceremonies in 2009.
“As a veterinarian's veterinarian, Kent was a fantastic bridge between the college and the wider veterinary community and played a significant role in helping to get the college established,” said Terry Swecker, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and professor of production management medicine/clinical nutrition. “Kind, articulate, and immensely proud to be a veterinarian, he always said we are all veterinarians first, whatever our roles in academia, private practice, government, or corporate. He was always striving to bring everyone up, and he got a great deal of enjoyment from watching students flourish and become successful veterinarians.”
In addition to his legacy of leadership and service, Roberts always was available to lift up those around him.
According to Peter Eyre, dean of the college from 1985 to 2003, “The attributes I remember most about Kent were his quiet unassuming personality and his caring demeanor. He was a mentor to countless faculty and students alike — anyone who needed help or advice. I know it is cliché to say ‘they don't make 'em like this anymore’ — but they don't!”
J. Philip Pickett, professor emeritus of ophthalmology, worked closely with Roberts when they both were at the college. Pickett referred to Roberts as a favorite uncle. One of the things that most stands out in Pickett’s mind about Roberts’ service to the college is that he created high-quality and value-based continuing education programs for the college when the college was just beginning. Pickett said, “Kent was the finest goodwill ambassador that our college ever had. We have lost a colleague who dedicated his life to the advancement of veterinary medicine, and the VMCVM has lost one of its oldest and dearest friends.”
Roberts supported the college and its faculty after his retirement. With the creation of the C.R. Roberts Professorship in Clinical Veterinary Medicine, Roberts and his family affected one of the first students to graduate from the college, R. Scott Pleasant, who was named to this professorship in 2018. The professorship had been created to honor Roberts’ father, Clarence Roberts, who started as a dairy practitioner before moving into corporate veterinary medicine and retiring as president of Sealtest, a division of Kraft Foods. Pleasant, who retired from the college in August 2021, was professor of large animal clinical sciences and director of the Equine Podiatry Service.
“As a member of the charter class of the VMCVM, I was aware of and appreciated the contributions of people, such as Dr. Roberts, who were instrumental in the founding and development of the college,” Pleasant said. “Years later, as a new faculty member at the college, I got to know Dr. Roberts as a person. I will always remember him with a smile on his face and a kind greeting for all. He was a caring individual, a dedicated family man – just a great human being!”
In 1994, Roberts was named a professor emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in recognition of his exemplary service to the university. Faculty who receive the prestigious title are specially recommended to the board by Virginia Tech's president. Roberts officially retired in 1995, but he continued to volunteer in support of the school until moving with his wife, Shirley, to a retirement community in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 2007.
Roberts earned a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. He practiced in large and small animal medicine at the Loudoun Animal Hospital in Purcellville, Virginia, for nearly 30 years before joining the college.
Roberts is survived by his wife, Shirley Fulton Roberts; three children, Kent Clayton Roberts Jr., Polly Bokhari, Amanda Roberts; his brother, Dr. Bruce Roberts; five grandchildren; and one great granddaughter. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Jane, and his sister, Doris Foulds.
Roberts' full obituary is available here.