Former Longview Mayor Earl Roberts dies at 77
Jan. 3, 2014 at 4:35 a.m.
Former Longview Mayor Earl Roberts only served one term as mayor, but left a legacy, friends and family said Friday.
The 77-year-old Roberts, who lost a months-long battle with cancer Thursday night, was a proponent of low taxes and community development when he served as mayor from 2000 to 2003.
Longview Mayor Jay Dean said Roberts made hard decisions that benefited the city, such as freezing the tax rate and cutting things out of the budget to help get the city's finances on track.
"In terms of his service as mayor, the things he did accomplish - especially in one term - are amazing," Dean said. "I personally think Earl Roberts has enhanced and improved the quality of life in the community."
Roberts continued to be an active participant in the community late into his life and assisted with Longview United for Growth's proposition to allow beer and wine sales in North and West Longview - a measure passed by voters in May.
Before his work as mayor, Roberts served as the city's attorney during the 1970s and 1980s.
Roberts, a Longview native, was recognized when his time as attorney ended and was honored again in November by the City Council, which voted to name a ball field at Lear Park after him.
Some of the highlights of his time as city attorney include rewriting the city's Comprehensive Zoning Ordinance in 1968, advising with the Charter Commission in writing the Home Rule Charter, which went into effect Jan. 1, 1979; and the trial of the Spring Hill annexation suit in district court and in the court of appeals in Tyler, with the Texas Supreme Court ruling in favor of the city in 1983.
Other highlights include the successful defense of the city against the Longview Cable Television Co. and the Founders Christian Church.
He was also civically involved as a member of the Gregg County Bar Association, where he served as president in 1963, the American Bar Association, Texas City Attorney Association and National Institute of Municipal Legal Officers. He served as chairman of the Municipal Legal Studies Center of the Southwest Legal Foundation in Dallas, was a former member of the board of trustees of LeTourneau College and chairman of the board of deacons of First Baptist Church in Longview.
Former Councilwoman Margo Talley recalled serving alongside a mayor who wanted his town to grow.
"He also knew that Longview had to grow to attract businesses and people to come here," she said, noting Roberts' awareness of the common East Texas story of children moving to urban areas.
"You could always tell, when he was mayor, that he was doing it because he was really concerned for Longview," Talley said. "It wasn't for any personal gain, not political ambition. He was truly doing it for the love that he had for this community."
Talley said Roberts had followed his father, Meredith Earl Roberts Sr., into the legal profession.
Longview businessman Robert Metzler got to know Roberts on early morning runs with the mayor and other joggers.
"Good memories," Metzler said Friday, before recalling a recent phone conversation during which Roberts soothed his friend's concerns for him. "He said, 'Let's not think about those things now. There will be time for sorrow,' " Metzler said.
Metzler stood in for Roberts when Lear Park was dedicated, fruit of Roberts' efforts to sway landowner Bill Lear to provide land for a top-of-the-line sports complex that draws families from neighboring states to tournaments.
"And Bill (Lear) told me, if it hadn't been for Earl, that park would not be there," he said. "This is where he was born and raised, and he wanted to see it do well."
Metzler said Roberts was instrumental in establishing the North Longview Business Park on North Judson Road. But, mostly, it's the bonding with the man who club members dubbed "King" that took place, step by step, that Metzler will celebrate.
"He not only brought joy to our lives," Metzler said. "He enriched our lives. He went out with a certain graciousness that is typical of Earl."
Roberts' time as mayor saw a fight for the Northeast Texas region to delay the deregulation of electric power - the area remains regulated to this day - and a contentious passage of a smoking ban in city restaurants.
More recently, Roberts had been asked in June to chair the Comprehensive Plan Advisory Committee and agreed to the post before the discovery of his condition.
After his diagnosis, Roberts resigned from the committee that will work to create a 15- to 20-year plan for the city of Longview.
"Earl was a very special and fine gentleman that loved humor, was passionate about Longview and East Texas," said longtime friend Bob Dyer. "He was dedicated to his family, and served his community, church and friends in an exemplary fashion. His unique intellect, wisdom and counsel benefited clients, community, friends, and family ... So many have fond memories of their relationship with Earl as he made such wonderful contributions to their lives."
Gregg County Judge Bill Stoudt said he had known Roberts his entire life.
"When he did legal counsel work, we worked together on numerous projects. He was a great citizen for Longview," Stoudt said. "In more recent years we had a breakfast club that met once a month ... He was an excellent person. His handshake was his word ... It is a big loss for Longview."
A memorial service for Roberts is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Longview with a private burial in New Providence Cemetery.