Remembering 'Doc' Roberts

Photo courtesy of Washington County Heritage Online

Former biology professor "Doc" Roberts was a scientist who loved teaching. His son, John Roberts '63, honors that love with a new scholarship for students seeking a science and math teaching degree.

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It’s the amoeba lecture that most people remember.

John “Doc” Roberts spent more than 25 years teaching biology at Pacific University. He lived locally, raised a family, chaired the biology department and coached the golf team.

But still, it’s the amoeba lecture.

No one has found a recording of the infamous presentation, but apparently it went something like this:

Once a semester, Doc—who walked with a limp after a childhood bout of polio—would clamber atop his desk. There, he would “engulf” a wastepaper basket, demonstrating how single-celled amoebae consume their food.

“I don’t know…whether it was 10 minutes or three or four minutes,” says Doc’s son, another John Roberts ‘63. “But it drove the point home and also gave some humor to the class.”

In fact, the lecture became so popular that Doc would keep secret when it was coming. Otherwise, his classroom would be swarmed with former students seeking an encore and curious onlookers hoping to catch the show.

John Roberts, the younger, never witnessed the performance. Though he studied at Pacific, he avoided the biology program.

“I was scared of taking his class,” Roberts confesses with a chuckle. “I was afraid of the father-son connection and having to work harder in his class.”

Instead, Roberts earned a bachelor of science in math. Encouraged by his father to have a “fall-back,” he also earned his teaching credentials. He went on to teach in Camas, Wash., for three years, then, looking for adventure, he and his wife spent several years in Guam, where he taught. While there, Roberts was selected for a National Science Foundation scholarship that took him to Hawai’i for his master’s degree in education. He taught school in Yakima, Wash., then went on to sell computers to schools, long before they were a common part of education.

At every juncture of his career, he saw the importance of quality teaching in math and science and of the integration and application of the two subjects. Last year, Roberts decided to support just that, founding a scholarship to benefit students in Pacific’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teaching program.

The scholarship—the Doc Roberts Endowed Scholarship Fund—is named for his father’s legacy.

“He was a down-to-earth kind of individual,” who treated everyone with kindness and respect and who loved his students, Roberts says of his father.

“He always had a love for the school, and the school’s ties to a small town, and he always rated part of his compensation, if you will, the fact that it was a lovely place to live and work.”

Contribute to the Doc Roberts Endowed Scholarship Fund, or find other ways to support Pacific’s missionm at

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