Kent Clayton Roberts, a co-founder of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, died on August 24, 2021. He was 95 years old.
Originally from 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 after high school and served during World War II before earning his DVM from Cornell University’s New York State College of Veterinary Medicine in 1951. He then opened a small and large animal practice in Purcellville, Virginia, which he had operated for nearly 30 years.
Roberts held many veterinary leadership positions including President of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association and President of the Virginia State Board of Veterinary Examiners. Roberts was appointed by the then government. John Dalton as a member of the Virginia Veterinary Medicine Study Commission tasked with evaluating the need and feasibility of a college of veterinary medicine in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Roberts then became an important part of the college that grew out of this commission and the subsequent partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and the state of Maryland.
Roberts joined Virginia Tech in 1980 as one of the first faculty members to join the new Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, coinciding with enrollment in the college’s charter class. Originally a director of Extension, he was also a key college ambassador in the early years, building relationships with the Virginia Federation of Dog Clubs and Breeders and other organizations. Roberts also facilitated training opportunities for practitioners as well as organizations related to the veterinary profession.
Although Roberts held many key roles in the college, including acting as the interim director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, he found great pleasure in teaching the college students. His wit and wonderful sense of humor made him a student favorite. In recognition of everything he had done for the college, as well as his life’s work, contribution to the profession, and philanthropic donations, Roberts was presented with the John N. Dalton Award, the college’s most prestigious award in 2009, during the college’s opening ceremony.
“As a veterinarian, Kent was a fantastic bridge between the college and the wider veterinary community and played an important role in starting the college,” said Terry Swecker, director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and professor of medicine / clinical nutrition production management. “Kind, eloquent, and incredibly proud to be a veterinarian, he always said that we are all veterinarians first, regardless of our roles in science, private practice, government, or business. He’s always keen to nurture everyone and really enjoyed watching students thrive and become successful veterinarians. “
In addition to his legacy of leadership and service, Roberts was always available to strengthen those around him.
Peter Eyre, dean of the college from 1985 to 2003: “The qualities I remember most about Kent were his calm, humble personality and caring demeanor. He has been a mentor to countless faculty and students alike – anyone who needed help or advice. I know it’s a cliché to say, ‘They don’t do it that way anymore’ – but they don’t! “
J. Philip Pickett, Professor Emeritus of Ophthalmology, worked closely with Roberts when they were both in college. Pickett called Roberts a favorite uncle. One of the things that Pickett noticed most about Roberts’ college service is that he created high quality, value-based continuing education programs for college when college was just beginning. Pickett said, “Kent was the best goodwill ambassador our college has ever had. We have lost a colleague who has devoted his life to advancing veterinary medicine, and the VMCVM has lost one of its oldest and dearest friends. “
Roberts supported the college and its faculty after his retirement. In creating the CR Roberts Professorship in Clinical Veterinary Medicine, Roberts and his family influenced one of the college’s first alumni, R. Scott Pleasant, to be appointed to the professorship in 2018. The professorship was created in honor of Roberts’ father, Clarence Roberts, who started out as a dairy practitioner before moving into veterinary medicine and retiring as president of Sealtest, a division of Kraft Foods. Pleasant, who retired from college in August 2021, was Professor of Clinical Science in Large Animals and Director of the Equine Podiatry Service.
“As a member of the founding class of the VMCVM, I knew and appreciated the contributions of people like Dr. Roberts, who were instrumental in founding and developing the college, ”said Pleasant. “Years later, as a new faculty member at College Dr. Know Roberts as a person. I will always remember him with a smile on my face and a friendly greeting for everyone. He was a caring person, a committed family man – just a great person! “
In 1994, Roberts was named Professor Emeritus by the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors in recognition of his exemplary service to the university. Faculties that receive the prestigious title are recommended to the board of directors by the President of Virginia Tech. Roberts officially retired in 1995 but continued to volunteer at the school until 2007 when he and his wife Shirley moved to a senior citizens’ community in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a doctorate in veterinary medicine from Cornell University. He practiced large and small animal medicine at Loudoun Animal Hospital in Purcellville, Virginia for nearly 30 years before entering 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 a great-granddaughter. In death he was preceded by his daughter Jane and sister Doris Foulds.
Roberts’ full obituary is available here.