David Calvin Roberts, an extraordinarily kind and decent man, beloved father, Pop-Pop, and friend, passed away on Saturday, November 7th. He died peacefully in Florida by the side of his lifelong friend and sister-in-law, Lucienne.
From the outside, it would have been easy to overlook a life like David’s. He was born in Burlington, Vermont, on July 30th, 1939, at home and to a family without a telephone in the house, who had to wait until the mom-and-pop store downstairs was open so they could call a doctor. Throughout his teenagehood, he scraped by on odd jobs like construction projects or setting up carnival booths in Battery Park. He later worked at a grocery store, and spent decades delivering milk. He was, to use a more recent term, an essential worker before we recognized them as such.
But he would spend that life devoted to these same kinds of people. If there is one descriptor that encapsulates the best of him, it is volunteer: David was a Cub Scout leader, a Grand Knight in the St. Mark’s Knights of Columbus, a member of the American Legion, a longtime volunteer for the Catholic Bishop Fund, and a volunteer blacksmith at the Shelburne Museum, where he loved sharing his knowledge of the craft. For ten years, he’d cook meals at the Salvation Army, serving the men and women in Burlington who’d fallen on hard times, people he treated as though they mattered even when the world didn’t see them that way.
David spent much of his time making often ignored people feel welcome: At family gatherings, he’d be the one chatting with someone’s friend or spouse, putting them at ease with his quiet graciousness and sly sense of humor. It was a quality that made him a natural favorite among bartenders, nurses, and bank tellers, who used to give him whole boxes of lollipops even though they were only supposed to give him one. He’d return the favor, too: Even though he never had much of it, giving away money was one of his greatest joys.
He loved strong black coffee, country music, and cowboy hats; he hated birds (thanks to an incident as a child involving a chicken coop). He loved his job as a milkman for Hood, which he did for decades and was instrumental in preserving the tradition of home delivery through the 1990s.
Most of all, though, David loved his wife, Jane, whom he met at a soda shop as a teenager. She borrowed a nickel for a cherry Coke and, in exchange, gave him an IOU. They married on February 4th, 1961, and with the money he’d saved from working for the Vermont National Guard, he bought her a small house in Burlington. In their 55 years of marriage, they raised seven children and more than a dozen grandchildren. Jane was the love of his life until her death in 2016, and those who knew him can smile knowing that the two of them are holding hands and walking along a beach somewhere, and maybe she can finally pay him back those five cents.
David is predeceased by his parents, Eva Gorton and Richard “Bing” Roberts, his sister Beauzetta “Bobbi” Bryant, and his wife, Jane. He is survived by his children, Robert, Sarah, Neil, Nora, Sharron, Karen, and David; his grandchildren Nick, Emily, Stasia, Natalie, Rebecca, Andre, Megan, Sydney, Tatiana, Hannah, Colin, Katherine, and Lachlan; and his great-grandchildren Taygen, Ethan, Logan, Nathaniel, Lena, and Blayke. Nothing made him prouder than these people.
It is cruel that we lost him in a year in which his loved ones can’t come together from across the country and share a beer at T. Ruggs, his favorite bar, but a celebration of David’s life will be held when we can celebrate in the way he would wish. In lieu of condolences, consider making a donation to an organization devoted to feeding the homeless and the hungry in honor of him.