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Obituary: Margaret "Peg" Roberts '38

Margaret "Peg" Roberts, 8-24-15 -- 4-22-12.

Margaret 'Peg' Wissler Roberts, long-time resident of Santa Barbara with her husband, Brig. General Nathan J. Roberts, died on April 22, 2012 after a rich, full life. Born in White Plains, New York, she was the middle-born child of David and Martha Goodkind Jacobson, with an older sister, Jean Jacobson Strong, and a younger brother, David Jacobson, Jr. After attending grades 1-12 at the progressive Roger Ascham School in White Plains, New York, and Antioch College in Ohio, Peg headed west to graduate from the University of California, Berkeley in 1937 with a degree in psychology. While there, she discovered airplanes, joining the University Flying Club because, she said, "A friend belonged and it sounded interesting." This love of flying led to the first of several careers, working for military counter-intelligence in Costa Rica where she received a letter from the U.S. Army inviting her to become one of the tight-knit group of women pilots who would serve in the Women's Air Service Pilot corps (WASPs), a cadre who ferried PT-19 planes during WWll.

Peg's flying years took her "All over the U.S. and Canada," where she was also to pilot the C-47 and co-pilot/pilot B-25's. Planes were in her blood. Stationed last at a base in Victorville, California, she received special training to fly bombing runs in AT-11s over targets in the Mojave Desert and missions with bombardier cadets at the bombsight in the plane's glass nose. "This was intensive precision flying, and I loved it!" she wrote. 'Loved' it she did, being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her service along with her WASP comrades in 2010. At the close of the war she took on a new job in San Jose, California, ferrying beat-up old trainers from aircraft graveyards in Arizona and California, where she and two men were paid "$100 a day, an astronomical sum in those times," to fix them and fly them to new owners. However, finding that job "too risky"" Peg obtained an instructor's license and became a teacher-pilot, a job she headed up with three other instructors and a secretary: "I taught all phases of flying. But after five emergency landings, I decided enough was enough and I quit." This ended her official flying career.

Putting on a skirt, she took a job as a social worker for the American Red Cross in Fresno, California, but after a time decided to look for work overseas for the U.S. government. Instead, in Washington, DC, she "met the finest man alive -- tall, blond, and never married." Jay Roberts was a lawyer in the Army's Judge Advocate Corps stationed in the Pentagon. They married six months later, "followed by 44 years of sheerest happiness, with never a single quarrel." Later that phrase became a mantra, never a cross word. Together, the couple traveled endlessly -- from military assignments in France where Jay Roberts represented the U.S. Army in legal matters, to the Pacific where he served as Gen. MacArthur's attorney, to the Presidio in San Francisco, each tour of duty accompanying a promotion in the Army for Jay, who eventually became a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

At home In Santa Barbara, Peg got her teaching credential at UCSB, then taught 4th graders while finishing a California textbook history for youngsters, Pioneer California. She also penned articles for Cricket Magazine for teen-agers, volunteered thousands of hours reading for Recording for the Blind and managed to "walk six miles a day." Neither had she wasted her time in France. From her days in Washington she'd become a fine hostess and cook, keeping track of her recipes and a log of menus and VIP guests in a kitchen drawer so that she would never serve the same thing twice. She was proud of having shared successes with Julia Child one evening at a gathering.

During those busy years, the couple traveled privately, Peg claiming that "There are only three places we haven't been to." They were in Pago Pago in 1977 when they learned that their house in Santa Barbara's Sycamore Canyon had burned to the ground in minutes, during a freak fire storm whipped by the Santa Anna winds. The couple returned to view the ashes, ordered their home rebuilt, then flew back to continue their voyage around the globe -- Peg had done the drawings for the house herself, having been a draftswoman for the architect of the Washington National Cathedral years earlier. Some months later, the young sons of Peg's niece were rummaging through the rubble of the ashes and discovered Peg's silver WASP wings -- untouched. She considered the find a gift from the gods.

After her husband's death Peg would continue to travel on her own. She visited Antarctica and walked across England below Hadrian's wall, twice. In 2002 Peg moved to Marin County to be near family. Last year she signed up as passenger aboard a B-17, the Liberty Belle, to take a flight around the Bay Area. When the flight was over and she was emerging from the plane, when asked how it was up there she replied, "That was familiar!"

Peg Roberts' life was thrilling, all 96 and a half years of it. Her energy, enthusiasm and daring seem limitless. Her family, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends, will miss her acutely.