(Jan. 28, 2009)
K. Harrison “Harry” Roberts, 91, died Wednesday, Jan. 28, in Vero Beach, Fla. He was born Dec. 10, 1917, in New York City.
Harry, known as a straight shooter and innovative thinker, moved to Wyoming in 1947 where he lived until 1986.
He was the father of five daughters and believed in service to community and country. During a lifetime that spanned more than nine decades and encompassed depression, war, and great technological evolution, Harry chose leadership positions at every turn. He was proud of his title of “rancher,” and never strayed from the values of hard work and fair play that bound him first and foremost to Wyoming — his chosen home.
Raised on Long Island, N.Y., and in Gainesville, Va., Harry graduated from Yale University in 1939 with a bachelor’s of science in economics. Following graduation he joined Gulf Oil Corporation, where he worked in the Panama Canal Zone. In 1941, with the United States on the brink of war, Harry enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He graduated second in his class from Midshipmen School and was assigned first to a sub chaser and later volunteered for submarine duty on the U.S.S. Bashaw, where he made six war patrols, serving as engineering officer, electrical officer and diving officer. At the end of the war, Harry returned to the Gulf Oil Corporation.
Before Harry reported for naval duty in the fall of 1941, he met Louise W. Littleton (Toni) at the Valley Ranch in Cody. Toni was a guest at the ranch and Harry was an employee. They married during a shore leave on Nov. 11, 1942, the day before the Air-Sea Battle of Guadalcanal.
After another short stint working for Gulf Oil Corporation after WWII, Toni and Harry loaded up a small truck and drove across the country to Wyoming where they raised five daughters, sheep and cattle on a ranch in Barnum.
While living on the D Cross Ranch in Barnum, Harry became a Barnum School Board member and later was elected president of the Wyoming School Boards Association. He was involved in numerous statewide boards and associations. In 1966, Harry was elected Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the first non-educator to serve in that position.
In 1970, Harry was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress, but lost his bid by 608 votes in a recount to the Democratic candidate Teno Roncalio. After the election, he went to work for True Oil Companies as executive assistant to company president. Harry also served as vice president of the Belle Forche Pipeline Company. He remained at True Oil until he retired in 1977, moving with his bride of 35 years to build a home on the South Fork. Toni Roberts died in 1985.
Building a home was only a beginning of the challenges Harry would initiate in retirement. He was co-founder and executive director of the Wyoming Heritage Foundation and the Wyoming Heritage Society. After Toni’s death, Harry bought a home in Vero Beach, Fla., where he lived during the winter with his close companion, Tracy Griswold, until his death. Tracy and Harry had first met in New York City in 1937 where they became friends and discovered that life’s circumstances would later offer them the opportunity to become partners for more than 20 years.
Harry returned to Wyoming for weeks each year visiting with friends and family and to offer solicited (or not) words of wisdom and encouragement to those living in the state he loved so dearly.
In addition to Tracy Griswold, Harry is survived by his five daughters, Mandy Metzger, Flagstaff, Ariz., Sheila Vidamour, St. Augustine, Fla., Susan Thomas, Casper, Joan Heron, Boulder, Colo. and Ginny Southwick, Powell; nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren. He is also survived by Tracy’s daughters, Tracy Glass and Abby Stetson, Frisco, Colo., Mimi Geer, Santa Fe, N.M. and their families.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, Feb. 6, at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Casper. A private service will be held in the Riverside Cemetery in Cody on Saturday, Feb. 7, where will be laid to rest beside Toni in the shadow of Heart Mountain and a few stone-throws away from his beloved South Fork of the Shoshone River.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to: The Spirit Mountain Hospice House, 707 Sheridan Ave., Cody, WY 82414, The VNA Hospice House, 1110 35th Lane, Vero Beach, FL 32960, and the Craig and Susan Thomas Foundation, 2780 Olive Drive, Cheyenne, WY 82001.