Portland's Walk of the Heroines

Friends and Colleagues Honor Barbara Roberts

Barbara Roberts

Governor Roberts is recognized as a strong advocate for environmental management, as a state and national leader for human and civil rights, and as one of America’s foremost “re-inventors” of effective government.

To make a gift in Honor of Barbara Roberts you can download the contribution form here.


In November of 1990, Barbara Roberts was elected as Oregon’s first woman Governor. During her four-year term (1991-1995), Oregon was recognized by financial World Magazine as the 7th best managed state in the nation in 1993. The National Alliance for Business also recognized Oregon as State of the Year in 1991 for its workforce and education innovations. In 1994, the state won the prestigious Innovations in Government Award from the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government in recognition of the nationally acclaimed Oregon Benchmarks program. Roberts used the Benchmarks’ measurable goals as an integral part of her budgeting and planning efforts during her term. She is recognized and respected nationally as a government re-inventor. In 2005, the Oregon legislature named the Human Services Building for Governor Roberts – the first time a state capital mall building has been named for a governor in Oregon – the building is now the Barbara Roberts Human Services Building.

Governor Roberts worked with the Clinton Administration to secure federal waivers needed to implement the Oregon Health Plan, and she successfully pushed for state funding for the plan and for immediate start-up coverage. More than 140,000 Oregonians were insured under the new health plan after the first year of implementation.

During her four-year term, Roberts doubled the number of children under Oregon’s state-paid Head Start program and established a Housing Trust Fund that financed thousands of new units of affordable housing. She led the efforts that funded and expanded programs that helped more than 19,000 Oregonians move from welfare to the workplace and self-sufficiency.

One of the most environmentally conscious Governors in the nation, Governor Roberts led funding efforts for expansion of the light rail line linking Multnomah County to Washington County in the Portland Metropolitan area. As a Multnomah County Commissioner in 1978, she gave one of the necessary votes to begin construction of the fifteen-mile light rail line from Gresham to Portland. One of the new light rail cars is named in her honor. Her belief that environmental responsibility and economic health can exist side-by-side was strengthened during her four-year tenure as state CEO. When Roberts finished her term, Oregon had the lowest unemployment in 25 years and the highest investment in the state’s history while preserving Oregon’s comprehensive land use system, stopping construction of two unneeded dams and supporting the Endangered Species Act and the Clinton Forest Plan.

Robert’s “Conversation with Oregon” allowed her to use interactive television to speak with thousands of Oregonians on government, taxes and state priorities. She used this same educational television system to speak with hundreds of Oregon teenagers on the subject of teen pregnancy. These citizen outreach efforts are considered to be an American first.

From 1985 to 1991, prior to being elected Governor, Barbara Roberts served as Oregon’s Secretary of State—the first Democrat to hold that office in 110 years. In Oregon the Secretary of State also serves as Lt. Governor and State Auditor. She was a member of the Oregon House of Representatives from 1981-1985 and served as majority leader in 1983 and 1984. Roberts also served as a county commissioner, served a decade as an elected school board member and four years as an elected community college board member. Roberts began her years of public service as an advocate for disabled children as she fought for the educational rights of her autistic son.


In 1996 Roberts was recognized with the naming of an alternative high school in her honor. Barbara Roberts High School includes the Teen Parent Program, the GED program and other alternative education programs making it the largest high school in Salem, Oregon.

A descendant of Oregon Trail pioneers and a fourth generation Oregonian, Barbara Roberts was born in Corvallis, Oregon on December 21, 1936. She was married to the late State Senator Frank Roberts and has two adult sons, Mike and Mark Sanders, two grandchildren ages 15 and 17, and 10 step-grandchildren ranging in age from 5 to 26 years old.

Governor Roberts was educated at Marylhurst College, Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, Portland State University, and received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Willamette University in 1992.


After five and half years, former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts recently retired from her position at the Hatfield School of Government’s Executive Leadership Institute at Portland State University as Associate Director of Leadership Development. Her first major leadership program began operation in September of 1999 serving local and state government and non-profit leaders in Oregon and Washington.

Prior to her association with Portland State University, Governor Roberts had a five-year association with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University serving as Director of the Harvard Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government and later as a senior fellow to the Women and Public Policy Program.

Roberts formerly served on the board of trustees for the Oregon Hospice Association, Women of the West Museum in Boulder, Colorado, Central City Concern, 1000 Friends of Oregon, and the Human Rights Campaign, in Washington D.C. She is also a member of the Advisory Councils for the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, and Compassion in Dying, and the board of directors of Population Action International in Washington D.C.

In addition, Roberts was a founding board member of the Children's Relief Nursery in St. John's serving for six years, and as finance chair she helped to raise over $2 million for children ages 0-3 who are victims or at-risk of abuse or neglect.

Governor Roberts is an active public speaker, focusing on issues of leadership, women in politics, environmental stewardship and death and grieving. Her first book “Death Without Denial; Grief Without Apology,” was released in February of 2002 and came out in its Japanese translation in August 2004.

“Each generation has but one chance to be judged by future generations, and this is our time.”
— from Robert’s Inaugural Address on January 14, 1991

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