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For 34 years, Tom McRoberts poured his life into his hometown college, the University of Minnesota Morris, advising students and organizing programs for Internet and continuing education and international studies.
His efforts brought him many accolades, including the all-university-system John Tate Award for advising undergraduates. One of his students was Lorie Gildea, named chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court in July.
"He was a mentor to me and to so many students," Gildea said. "He is a shining example of UMM's commitment to public service. Tom inspired all of us to be better than we ever thought we could be. He always made you feel valued ... and he always had time."
McRoberts, a Morris alumnus, died of bladder cancer Oct. 11 at a care center in Morris, said his sister, Betty Rae Borden, of Morris. He was 64.
"He was a warm, loving, self-effacing person who devoted his life to education and human rights," Borden said. He sat on a local human rights council and a year ago was appointed to the board of the Minnesota League of Human Rights Commissions.
University President Robert Bruininks said McRoberts was a longtime friend. Bruininks gave him the President's Award for Outstanding Service in 2003 at Eastcliff mansion in St. Paul. "His collegiality and service over the years made him a much-sought-after co-worker, adviser and friend," Bruininks said in an e-mail. "His leadership of initiatives and programs as diverse as Continuing Education, the Center of International Programs, and the Center for Small Towns speak volumes about his commitment ... his legacy will be felt for decades to come."
Political science Prof. Paula O'Loughlin met McRoberts 14 years ago and worked with him on many programs. She said he was a critical player in diversifying the campus student body, including working on initiatives for minority, international and older students. "He was UMM,'' O'Loughlin said.
Roger McCannon was McRoberts' boss in the Continuing Education Department for about 20 years, until 2006, when McRoberts succeeded him as director. "He was the brains and heart and soul of our continuing education and outreach efforts," McCannon said. "We had growing programs reaching different audiences and were increasing student services. He had it all in his head."
McRoberts also was an active Stevens County DFL leader and a behind-the-scenes strategist for local and state political leaders, McCannon said.
McRoberts most enjoyed advising and mentoring all kinds of students, colleagues said. "That's where his heart was. It's what Morris is about," O'Loughlin said.
In addition to his sister Betty Rae, McRoberts is survived by another sister, Merrilee, of Minneapolis, and a brother, Raymond, of Rochester.
Services have been held.