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Faculty Profile: Pat Roberts

Pat Roberts, who taught at the Wake Forest University School of Law since 1979, retired in June. She was a well-respected teacher and scholar in the subjects of Property, Decedents’ Estates and Trusts, and Donative Transfers.

An Ohio native, Roberts moved to Winston-Salem in 1977 from Columbus, Ohio, with her then husband Tom Roberts, who was hired to teach at Wake Forest law school and also retired in June.

Hired initially as an adjunct when her children were small, Roberts soon became part-time and later a tenured professor. She is a co-author of a casebook on Decedents Estates and Trusts, which is in its seventh edition, and author of law review articles and continuing legal materials for practicing lawyers.

Roberts was a longtime member of the law school’s admissions committee and was involved in preparing students for the bar examination. She has been active with the Legislative Committee of the Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section of the North Carolina Bar Association and spearheaded the effort to rid North Carolina of the antiquated “Rule in Shelley’s Case” in 1986. She also has worked on efforts to reform the North Carolina statute that protects the surviving spouse from disinheritance. She also drafted North Carolina’s anti-lapse statute.

She has been active with the Association of American Law Schools, serving as a member of the Executive Board and as Chair of the Donative Transfers, Fiduciaries and Estate Planning Section in 1996. In 2000, she was elected to become a member of the American College of Trusts and Estates Counsel. She has received the Joseph Branch Excellence in Teaching award as well as the Wake Forest Jurist Excellence in Teaching Award.

While she received a lot of positive feedback from her students for her teaching, those who know her know that her heart belongs to physical fitness.

“I was totally sedentary until I was in my early 30s,” she said. “Then my former colleague, Butch Covington, and his wife, Marie, talked me into running.”

In 1987 she set the North Carolina State record for Masters in the 10-miler and was voted N.C. Female Masters Runner of the Year by the N.C. Road Runners Association. Many of her training partners were students. Later she became a cyclist and, again, she has enjoyed many bike rides with students. She is a 10-time National Champion in her age division and she finished third in her age division at the Worlds Masters Race in Austria in 2002.

Despite numerous run ins with motor vehicles, literally, or perhaps because of them, Roberts may be trading her road bike for a mountain bike and heading to the wilds and slick rock of Southern Utah to explore the sandstone and red rock desert where her daughter gives guided mountain bike tours.

In addition to being a mother and educating hundreds of young legal minds over the years, Roberts also set records in raising money for the YMCA’s Partnership with Youth Campaign.

“I will miss my students,” she said. “The feeling that I have successfully explained a difficult concept is extremely rewarding. I think the most important skill that I taught was the ability to recognize and avoid drafting ambiguous language. Often language seems unambiguous, but when applied to particular facts, usually involving an unexpected order of deaths, the drafting gives rise to litigation because of the ambiguity. The end result can leave an otherwise harmonious family torn apart. This is the worst thing a lawyer can do.”