Remembering Norm Roberson (1941-2008)

“Norman Roberson, beloved friend, colleague, and legendary presence at the American Academy in Rome for 20 years, passed away early in the morning of 29 May 2008,” reports AAR President Adele Chatfield-Taylor. “The cause of death was lung cancer. Norm had not been able to be at the Academy for several months, but he was never far from our thoughts and many Academy trustees, staff and fellows were often by his side.”

Norman Marcus Roberson played an unusually essential role in the life of the Academy. His formal title at the AAR was “Gate Reception”, and as such he made a wonderfully warm first impression on new Fellows, Residents and countless visitors that would last throughout one’s stay, and, for many, remain as an indelible memory of Rome.

But Norm also turned the Academy’s portineria into a portal to Italy and Italian life, history and culture as a whole. Dozens of academic books and articles thank Norm for his unfailing helpfulness in everything from obtaining hard-to-find camera film to sharing his (encyclopedic) knowledge of the topography and sights of Rome, Lazio and Tuscany. An avid student of Etruscology, Norm Roberson was the coauthor of Affreschi—Exploring Etruria (2001, with Mary Jane Cryan), as well as a contributor to multiple editions of The Rough Guide to Rome and The Rough Guide to Italy. He served in the US Marine Corps from 1960 to 1971.

For an illuminating (and yet unaired) radio interview that Norm Roberson granted before his illness, listen here (mp3 audiofile, 10 mins.). Radio producer Laura Friedman recorded this as a part of a program she is developing called “The Other Italy”. A superb obituary by British journalist Anthony Smith can be read in the electronic version of the The Roman Forum.

Adele Chatfield-Taylor in her announcement added that the Academy was to hold a memorial service at 5, Via Masina to celebrate Norm Roberson’s life at 5.00 PM on Thursday 24 July 2008. “All Trustees, Fellows, Residents and Friends of the Academy are invited to attend the service, or to send reminiscences to share with Norm’s family, either during the ceremony or in a guest book prepared for his daughters, Cory Cryer and Shelly Desmond.

Contributions are also invited for the Norman Roberson Book Fund in Etruscan Studies. His daughters thought it would please their father to have the Academy remember his scholarship, writing, friendship and the many happy trips and tours he took with members of the Academy family in this way.”

Contributions to the Norman Roberson Book Fund in Etruscan Studies may be sent to the American Academy in Rome, 7 East 60 Street, New York, New York 10022 USA, or made by visiting this site.

Elizabeth Bartman FAAR’83, former President (1996-2000) of the Society of Fellows, delivered these remarks on behalf of the SOF at the 24 July memorial service:

“For many Fellows newly arriving in Rome, Norm’s was the first face to greet them at the Academy.

It was a welcome sight. Part Jupiter, part Santa Claus, Norm exuded an authority tempered by kindness. The phone could be jangling, the fax humming, and the doorbell insistent, but Norm remained unruffled and calm through it all. He always greeted me as though I were the most important person in the universe, and I know I wasn’t the only one to receive such VIP treatment.

Over the years I heard about his Etruscan studies, his family, and his previous work in more exotic (and dangerous) locales. One of his last major undertakings, his trip to the US last fall, I learned about in pictures on his return because he was losing his voice. The trip was much anticipated: Norm had not been back to the States in many years and he was relishing this peripatetic journey across the country. We discussed his outfit for an event at the posh Newport Yacht Club, where Norm, much to his delight, planned to transform his usual appearance with navy blazer and slacks. I am glad he had the chance to see family and reconnect with friends.

Personally I have lost a wonderful friend; and the Society of Fellows, which I represent here today, has lost one of the Academy employees who in myriad ways make the Fellows’ year a time to remember.”

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