Jim Roberts, an electrical engineering professor who served in many capacities for Kansas University, died Saturday after a battle with colorectal cancer.
Roberts, 65, had held multiple administrative positions at the university, including department chairman, associate vice chancellor and vice provost, and had been KU’s senior research officer.
He is survived by his wife, Carol; two children, Mike Roberts and Sally Roberts-Gorzelanski; and four grandchildren.
“To me, he’s just my father. It’s going to be interesting over the next few days to hear all of the stories and all of his accomplishments at KU,” Roberts-Gorzelanski said. “He has so many admirers and people who just love him. I just knew him as my dad. KU has a big loss.”
Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from KU in 1966. He then earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and later a doctorate from Santa Clara University in California, both in electrical engineering.
Roberts returned to KU in 1990 after a career in industry. Starting in 1969, Roberts held management positions with a Silicon Valley start-up company that became a subsidary of TRW, now Northrop Grumman. He developed some of the first interactive communications system design tools on the Arpanet, the forerunner of the Internet, and performed some of the early research into the use of low-altitude satellite packet radio networks. His early work focused on communications applications, while in later years he turned his research focus to electric energy, including its use in vehicles.
He returned to KU after being chosen as professor and chairman of the KU Electrical and Computer Engineering Department and served until December 1997. During his tenure, externally funded research grew sevenfold and the ranking of KU electrical engineering research jumped from 61st to 21st.
Roberts became associate vice chancellor for research and then associate vice provost for research in 1998. He served in that role until 2003, when he became interim vice provost for research, ultimately taking that position permanently in 2004.
Roberts served as the university’s senior research officer from 2003 to 2007. He was also the president and chief operations officer of the KU Center for Research Inc., a nonprofit corporation that manages research administration for the university.
Roberts stepped down in 2007 to resume teaching electrical engineering full time. That year Roberts was the recipient of the KU Distinguished Service Award for University Outreach and Continuing Education.
“It’s a real loss for the university and the community,” said Steve Warren, who took over as interim vice provost for research and graduate studies after Roberts stepped down, and removed the interim tag in 2008. “He was the kind of person everyone liked to work with. He was straightforward and honest and in addition provided enormous leadership for the university.”
Roberts continued teaching after he was diagnosed with cancer in January 2008.
“He bled red and blue. He loved KU,” said Roberts-Gorzelanski. “I think he will be sorely missed on so many different levels.”
A few years ago Roberts and his wife established a scholarship fund, the James and Carol Roberts Fund, for electrical engineering students. It is administered through KU Endowment.
“”That is certainly where he would love to have the donations sent to,” said Roberts-Gorzelanski.
Roberts’ funeral will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church, 875 U.S. Highway 40. He will be inurned on Friday in Chanute.
An obituary will be published in Tuesday’s Journal-World.