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A Tribute to D. William “Bill” Roberts (1931–2017)

Editor’s Note: Cathy McCollom, the director of River Town Program and the principal of McCollom Development Strategies, is a trustee of Landmarks Development Corporation and a former PHLF staff member. She wrote the following tribute to Bill Roberts who died on Saturday, April 22 at his home in Sewickley. Bill was a trustee of Landmarks Development Corporation and a former PHLF staff member. He was part of PHLF’s development of Station Square from the beginning, in the mid-1970s, after serving as a marketing director with the Pittsburgh Symphony and as an actual captain (and then marketing director) for the Gateway Clipper. He helped create the marketing plan for Station Square, which drew three million people annually to our historic, riverfront development in the early 1990s. As Cathy writes:

When I think of Bill Roberts, I think of two words: kindness and competence.

Before I moved to Pittsburgh from Louisville, Kentucky, Arthur Ziegler sent me to “connect with Bill Roberts” during the Regatta. Coming from where a lady’s proper dress for almost any affair, certainly something called a Regatta, included high heels and a hat, I arrived at the river at Point Park wearing just that. The park was brimming with vendors and people ––none of them in heels!––and the river was teeming with colorful boats. And out in one of those boats was Bill Roberts.

I picked my way carefully along the shore until I found an official looking guy with a radio who called for a boat to pick me up and take me to the middle of the river where I would meet Bill for the first time.

Bill had a radio in each hand and there was another one chirping on deck. Always a man of few words, he kindly refrained from commenting on my inappropriate attire. Instead, he helped me to a chair where I sat for the next several hours, totally amazed, and a bit intimidated, as Bill calmly and coolly solved crisis after crisis, and answered question after question, with high speed boats roaring around us all the while. It was an unforgettable introduction to the marketing and event planning acumen of Bill Roberts.

Bill was never critical, and rarely ruffled, despite what was often mayhem around him. He taught me how to ignore naysayers; how to organize, coordinate and plan; how to work with sponsors and partners to the mutual benefit of all. He taught me the best way to clean up after every event. And he did it all while remaining coolly competent and always kind.

I still follow his advice, and hopefully his example, to this day. Thirty years and hundreds of events later, I am still in awe of the guy who ran the Regatta.

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

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