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Roberta J. Park
In Memoriam

Roberta J. Park

Professor of Integrative Biology, Emerita

UC Berkeley
Roberta J. Park was born in Oakland, CA, on July 15, 1931, the daughter of Robert Donald and Grace E. (Faulkes) Park. She earned an A.B. degree from the University of California, Berkeley (1953), an M.A, from The Ohio State University (1955), and a Ph.D. from Berkeley in 1970. She was an instructor at Ohio State from 1955 to 1956, a teacher in the Oakland Public Schools, 1956-1959, and supervisor and then professor, at UC Berkeley, 1959-1994. From 1982 to 1992, she was chair of the Department of Physical Education, which then became the Department of Human Biodynamics in (1995), merging in 1997 with the Department of Integrative Biology.

Robbie, as she was known by her close friends and colleagues, was a passionate scholar in the field of sport history with a specialty in the history of health exercise and physical education in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. She edited a number of seminal books and monographs and published at least 100 articles in scientific journals (and another 60 in proceedings, abstracts, book reviews and other journals). These included the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Journal of Sport History, Quest, British Journal of Sport History, International Journal of Sport History, and the Canadian Journal of History of Sport and Physical Education (now Sport History Review). She delivered lectures and research presentations in all parts of the world, often as keynote speaker. Her extensive work on embodiment, sport, health and physical practices in historical context is widely admired. One of her most important contributions to the field was “A Decade of the Body: Researching and Writing about the History of Health, Fitness, Exercise and Sport, 1983-1993,” published in the Journal of Sport History in 1994.

Roberta was a lifelong proponent of physical education and worked tirelessly at Berkeley and in professional organizations to promote the field. She was a Fellow of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical Education (inducted 1979), serving as president of that organization (1990-91); Fellow of the British Society for Sports History; vice president of the International Association for the History of Sport and Physical Education (1989); president of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education; and vice president of the International Association for the History of Sport and Physical Education.

She was on the editorial boards of numerous journals including the Journal of Sport History, International Journal for the History of Sport and Physical Education, and the Journal of Physical Education and Recreation. She held editorial positions for Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Quest and the Association for the Anthropological Study of Play.

Roberta was also the recipient of a great many awards recognizing her outstanding contributions to the field. Among the awards she received are: the D. B. Dill Historical Lecture, American College of Sports Medicine; The Reet Howell Memorial Address, Australian Society for Sport History; the Distinguished Scholar Award, National Association for Physical Education in Higher Education; the Alliance Scholar, American Alliance for Health and Physical Education; International Sport History Scholar Award; and Seward Staley Address, North American Society for Sport History.

Dr. Park found herself fighting against shifting priorities at Berkeley and declining support for the physical education department. When the administration decided (in spite of three positive reviews by Academic Senate committees) to dis-establish the department and convert Harmon Gymnasium into Haas Pavilion, Robbie retired in 1994 to focus on the research and writing that was so important to her.

As a department chair Robbie Park was highly respected and widely esteemed. She provided vision and context to departmental efforts. As a scholar her breadth of knowledge facilitated cohesive functioning of a faculty with diverse interests and levels of expertise. Her tireless efforts provided a safe haven from the stresses of administrative skepticism and umbrage.

During her retirement, Dr. Park never wavered from her strong stance on the importance of exercise and sports for children and everyone else. She came to her campus office every day, swam in Hearst pool at noon, and spent the afternoon with her research. She was a force of nature, never missing an opportunity to share her scholarship.

Dr. Park gave much time to the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate, serving on the Committee on Library, 1984-87 (as chair, 1986-87); Graduate Council, 1989-2001, 2013-2014; and the committees on Educational Policy, 1993-97, and Courses of Instruction, 1995-2003​. She served as the chair of the Committee on Rules & Elections and Division secretary for eight years (1995-2003). John Cummins, the chief of staff to four chancellors, recalled Robbie’s gifts as a leader: “her big hands, her erect posture, her physical strength and stature, were that of a coach/athlete, which she was. Her physical stature matched her character. She was strong willed, confident, outspoken, informed, articulate, and persistent as a scholar, teacher and manager. She saw the mind and the body as one, viewed the discipline of physical education in that light, and always kept the value to the student in the forefront of all her professional activities.”

Robbie was an aficionado of the San Francisco Opera (her favorite was Bellini’s Norma), commenting frequently that the opera was her movie theater. She used to listen to recordings of her Aunt Lilly (Lillian Hopper), who was a New York opera singer during the 1930s, the Welsh singer Llewellyn Cadwaladr, and Maria Callas. Robbie was also an avid reader of nonfiction, history and biographies. In addition, she was an oil painter; among her work there are many silhouettes of boats, marinas, sunsets, wildflowers and open skies. She was also a great photographer. She was passionate about California flowers and plants and for years she cultivated her garden with native plants which she captured on camera. She had a Japanese bonsai that she took care of until her final days. During her last eight months, Roberta was discovering the delight of being a grandmother, spending her Sundays playing and singing with the little boy of her adopted daughter, Claudia Guedes. She died on December 6, 2018.

George Brooks
Susanna Li-Jue
Susan Zieff