Even while the feminist movement gained momentum during the 1970s, many areas of the business world remained largely off limits to women. Finding a job at that time—one that broke away from more traditional "female" occupations—proved challenging for one George Mason University graduate. She would receive help through George Mason and, some three decades later, would more than return the favor.
It was a difficult job market when Patricia Roberts, BS Business Administration '77, graduated. The job offers she received were not for the more coveted management training slots.
Seeing as Mason had provided her with, as she says, "a wonderful education," she looked back to the university for help by consulting her former finance professor, Robert Johnston. Johnston was able to set up an interview for her at General Reinsurance Corporation, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary. Roberts was promptly hired by the company and dedicated the next 35 years of her career to working there.
Roberts, Mason's 2013 Alumna of the Year Award recipient, says she "loved every day," working her way up General Reinsurance through a variety of leadership roles. Her enthusiasm and persistence paid off. In 2001, she was named president and chief executive officer of two companies within the Berkshire Hathaway organization: General Star and Genesis.
But she never forgot how she struggled to get there, and how Mason and Johnston helped turn things around. In 2011, Roberts reconnected with Mason by joining the School of Business Dean's Council, which assists the university in expanding relationships with executives and creating training and educational opportunities. And in November 2012, Roberts and her husband, John Roberts, BS Business Administration '77, established an endowed professorship in honor of Johnston, who will retire from the university next year. They kicked off the endowment with a gift of $500,000—the largest contribution ever received by the School of Business.
This remarkable gift was, Roberts says, a "way for us to say thank you" to Johnston and to "pave the way for the next professor to follow in his footsteps."
In nominating Roberts for the Alumna of the Year Award, School of Business dean Jorge Haddock praised her career and her generous spirit as "setting a magnificent example for the way in which alumni honor our faculty. She exemplifies the professional success and perseverance we see throughout the Mason community."
Roberts retired last year from General Star and now divides her time between her family and her love for sailing, her work with the Dean's Council, and volunteering at Inspirica, an organization that provides support for Connecticut's homeless population. This fall, she and John plan to travel. (The couple met in high school and decided to attend Mason together.) After a trip to St. John, they are planning a cruise down the Danube River.