The Roanoker - January/February 2017 - 66
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
DICK ROBERS HAS ALWAYS BEEN a
man with ideas. Even in retirement-after
five years-he can't resist the temptation to
say, "I have a great idea for you," to almost
anybody who will listen. Over the years,
those who have listened have been many
and the benefits have been considerable.
Robers has used his talents in industry,
government, cultural organizations and
charities. His ideas have always been upfront, often a little ahead of the crowd.
When he suggested, in 1989 as a member of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, that the proposed Virginia Tech
"Smart Road" be used to develop smart
vehicles, some laughed but serious people
took his advice.
"I remember this bigwig calling me and
saying, 'Who do you think you are, Buck
Rogers?'" The test bed, of course, has developed into one of the largest programs
in Virginia Tech history and is the site of
considerable development for the auto and
As a one-term member of the board of
supervisors (he was beaten by Fuzzy Minnix because "I favored consolidation"), he
helped build the Spring Hollow Reservoir
and the Smith Gap Landfill, two monumental accomplishments by a board that has
had little to recommend it in recent years.
While he was president of Maid Bess
Corporation, he recognized that health
insurance costs were eating companies
and employees alive and he helped found
a hospital coalition of businesses that
urged a merger of Carilion and LewisGale. Carilion "took it to court and we
lost. But it was a good idea." After that,
he helped found-and became chairman
of the board of-New Horizons, a health
care group that takes care of the poor in
the Roanoke Valley. That includes dental care.
66 | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2017
Dick Robers' approach to problem-solving (read, think, synthesize, suggest) has
occasionally rubbed people the wrong way. That has never stopped the flow of ideas.
Dick Robers He helped build the Spring Hollow Reservoir and Smith Gap Landfill.
He then turned his attention to TAP, the
Roanoke poverty agency with the national
reputation. His business acumen led TAP
to form a real estate group, which became
quite profitable and enabled it to stretch
dollars a long way.
He and a group of business buddies
founded the think tank Issues Management
Group ("That was more of a hobby") and
he found a spot consulting with Center in
the Square on its recent renovations. At one
point, he served on the Roanoke Regional
"I was always in the middle of things,
trying to keep a low profile," he says. But
the ideas kept coming. "I read a lot and I'd
get one idea from this area, another from
somewhere else and they'd merge with
These days, the man who has been
termed a "visionary" upon occasion has
toned it down a bit. He is the president of
the Hunting Hills Place (where he and his
long-time artist wife Mary Jane live) Homeowners Association and he is periodically
writing articles for the local daily. "I am occasionally asked to consult on something,"
he says, smiling.
There was a point a few years ago when
an excited Robers met with Congressman
Bob Goodlatte with an idea to retrofit a decommissioned aircraft carrier and use it as a
hospital ship and rescue vehicle for regions
in emergencies. "It could go anywhere in
the world, ferry people on helicopters, fix
things, take care of the sick and dying. A
workforce would live on board, ready for
action, bring back refugees."
The idea, obviously, went nowhere.