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Roberts had early dreams for office

October 15, 2006
| Herald Staff Writer

If it wasn't for that trip to D.C. in college, Ellen Roberts might have gotten into politics a long time ago.

She grew up on the ideological razor's edge dividing the country in the late '60s and early '70s. Her father, who served in the Army Air Corps in World War II, was a die-hard Republican and a fierce defender of the office of the presidency throughout the Nixon era. Her older brother had adopted his mother's pacifist Quaker religion and would not go to war.

"My brother was not going to Vietnam, no matter how much my father wanted him to," Roberts, 47, remembers.Later her brother would persuade her to help him go door-to-door for Barry Commoner, presidential candidate for a Green Party predecessor.

Roberts had leadership on her mind long before she headed to the capital. In fourth grade, she announced she wanted to be president when she grew up. On the way, she ran for and was elected class president at the high school in pastoral Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Her "very strict" father, who taught high school earth science for 24 years, was a major influence, coaching Roberts' softball team.

"They compared him to Vince Lombardi and he was very proud of that," Roberts says. "He was tough as nails."

By the time she left for college, she was leaning to the right, and knew "my brother and I were not exactly on the same page." She had been influenced not only by her father, but by the persecution of her mother's Quaker ancestors.

"One of the basic reasons I'm a Republican is I don't think government belongs in people's private lives," she says.Her burning interests in college were agricultural and energy issues, which she tended to think of from the perspective of government policy.

Then came the semester she spent in Washington, D.C., working for her congressman and the Republican National Committee. What she found did not live up to her high-minded expectations.

"I was very discouraged by what I saw in D.C.," Roberts says. "The information the congressmen and senators got was coming through an unrealistic and inexperienced filter."Concerned about how decisions were being made at the highest levels, Roberts decided to leave D.C. behind and lead a "real life."

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"I was disenchanted with the political scene for the next 20-something years," she says.

She took her search for reality with her to law school, where she was disappointed again by law school standards that focused more on the kind of philosophical issues that might come before the Supreme Court than on the day-to-day issues faced by a small-town lawyer, the kind of lawyer she would soon become.

After law school she practiced in the small Colorado towns of Granby and Hot Sulphur Springs before coming to Durango in 1989. She moved to Durango partly because it was a promising market for her husband, who builds upscale log homes, and partly for the lifestyle it would offer her family, which by then included her two children.

"You don't live here to make money, but you live here because of the quality of life," Roberts says.

Roberts was drawn back into politics by a very personal event, the death of her father in 1992.

"He was terminally ill when they found (the cancer), and treatment just made him sicker," Roberts says. "So that made me kind of mad."

Roberts began to work to improve home and hospice care funding by working first with Mercy Regional Medical Center and later with the region's congressional delegation. State Rep. Mark Larson, R-Cortez, soon became her mentor as her interest in politics revived, inspiring her again to believe in "the importance of the individual being engaged in governmental policy."

tmunro@durangoherald.com


 
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