Besides providing what Patricia Roberts, BS Business Administration ’77, says was “a wonderful education,” George Mason University also gave Roberts an introduction to a professor who had a profound impact on her life.
Roberts, this year’s Alumna of the Year Award recipient, received her degree in 1977, but soon after graduating, she found she wasn’t receiving the types of job offers that were being presented to her male classmates.
“Many employers were offering only what were considered to be traditional occupations for women at the time, such as bank teller and secretarial roles,” says School of Management dean Jorge Haddock, who nominated Roberts for the award.
Roberts took her concerns to her finance professor, Robert Johnston, who was able to set up an interview for her at General Reinsurance Corporation, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary. Roberts was promptly hired by the corporation and dedicated the next 35 years of her professional energies to her work there. She says she “loved every day,” working her way up through a variety of leadership roles. In 2001, she was named president and chief executive officer of two companies within the Berkshire Hathaway organization: General Star and Genesis.
Now, in a grand gesture of gratitude to her former instructor, Roberts and her husband have established a professorship in honor of Johnston, who will retire next year. They kicked off the endowment last November with a gift of $500,000—the largest contribution ever received in the history of the School of Management. The gift was a “way for us to say thank you,” Roberts says, “and pave the way for the next professor to follow in his footsteps.”
Roberts’ career and her generous spirit are “setting a magnificent example for the way in which alumni honor our faculty,” Haddock says. “She exemplifies the professional success and perseverance we see throughout the Mason community.”
Roberts also reconnected with Mason two years ago by joining the School of Management Dean’s Council in an effort to help the university expand relationships with executives and to create training and educational opportunities.
Having retired last year from General Star, Roberts now divides her time between family, sailing, working with the Dean’s Council, and volunteering at Inspirica, an organization providing support for the homeless in Connecticut. This fall, she plans to begin traveling with her father and with her husband, who is also a Mason graduate. The three will begin with a trip to St. John, and then Roberts and her husband will embark on a cruise down the Danube River.