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2013 Weatherford Awards: Barbara Roberts

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February 6, 2013

To celebrate the 2013 Weatherford Awards, this week we’re profiling each of the honorees here at the College of Business blog. Today is former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts. For more information about the awards and links to other honoree profiles as they’re posted, check out our introduction to the series.

Barbara Roberts has never let convention get in the way of doing what she knew to be right.

As a young mother of an autistic son, Roberts began advocating for special needs children.

In 1984 she became Oregon’s first woman House majority leader, then in 1990 was elected as the state’s first and still only woman governor.

“It’s impossible to be a leader without being a risk-taker,” Roberts said. “You must take a risk to lead. You have to walk out on a limb to make the kind of changes to make you that leader.”

Roberts was born a fourth-generation Oregonian in Corvallis before moving to Sheridan. She graduated from Sheridan High School and then Portland State University.

Though Roberts never saw herself as a reformer, in 1971 she saw a need and began to fight for the rights of special needs children, inspired by her own son, Mike.

In her new role as a lobbyist, she spent four days a week at her job as a bookkeeper and one day at the capitol building in Salem.

In the next six months, she became an expected presence, talking to all 90 members of the Oregon legislature, telling her story and advocating for educational rights.

Roberts’ efforts helped Oregon make history, passing the first law in the nation requiring special education for children.

“Women have a tendency to be more collaborative leaders and it was that collaboration that allowed me to bring all kinds of people to the table,” Roberts said. “The table was full – out of that collaboration, we came up with a lot of innovations.”

From there Roberts become involved at every level of Oregon’s political landscape, serving on the Parkrose School Board, Multnomah County Commission and the Oregon House of Representatives.

In 1984 Roberts was elected Oregon Secretary of State, winning re-election in 1988.

Soon after, the Democratic candidacy for governor was open and, with this newfound confidence and understanding of herself, Roberts announced her campaign.

During her time in office, Roberts had a significant impact on the state – on the economy, on the people, in education and the environment.

Roberts initiated the “Conversation with Oregon,” a statewide project to meet with citizens and hear opinions on how the state should address issues with taxation and government spending. The Roberts administration is also a strong supporter of gay rights and appointed a number of women and minorities to positions in state government.

After her term as governor, Roberts served as Director of the State and Local Government Executive Programs at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, as Associate Director of Leadership at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government and as a member of the Metro City Council in Portland.

“I like to look at the fact that I served in public office for more than thirty years and no one ever questioned my honesty and ethics,” Roberts said. “If I had to pick a thing that I am proud of, that would be it.”

For a career of service that always found new ways to bring people together for innovative solutions to the problems of government, Roberts is being honored as one of the 2013 Weatherford Award Winners.

“At first I was surprised to hear that I was getting this award,” Roberts said. “It became clear to me that there was more than one way to be innovative. ”

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