[From The Oregonian]
The autobiography of Betty Roberts, “With Grit and by Grace: Breaking Trails in Law and Politics,” (Oregon State University Press, $24.95 paperback, 288 pages) begins with a description of growing up in Texas in 1930s. Life was not easy. Sometimes there wasn’t enough to eat.
In 1942 Betty Cantrell met Bill Rice, a serviceman at an air base near Wichita Falls, Texas. He had been a banker in Oregon. He asked her to marry him. She couldn’t think of a good reason why she shouldn’t.
That’s how, after the war, Betty Rice became a banker’s wife in Klamath Falls, Lakeview, Gresham and La Grande, where with four children, two not yet school age, she became a college student and soon a divorcee.
Her second marriage was to Frank Roberts, a speech professor at Portland State College, who gave her his name and his assistance in a developing political career, but he didn’t really give up his bachelorhood. She had married Roberts for the same reason as Rice: “It had been the practical thing to do.” Only in her third marriage, to Keith Skelton, a fellow legislator, does Roberts speak of love.
Roberts tells her story of a political and legal career that spanned two decades. When she left the Oregon Supreme Court in 1986, she had been the court’s first woman justice as well as the first woman judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals.
In 1974 Roberts ran for governor and lost. After former U.S. Sen. Wayne Morse died during one of his comeback campaigns, Roberts quickly readjusted to run for the senate seat occupied by Bob Packwood.
Packwood won. Surprisingly, Roberts doesn’t mention her leadership in the removal of Packwood from the Senate after revelations about his philandering with just about anyone wearing a skirt. That story Roberts has left for Packwood to tell.
“With Grit and by Grace,” written with Gail Wells, describes Roberts’ career as a liberal feminist, always looking to advance the cause of women. That’s not entirely true. As a legislator Roberts was considered solid, well-versed on all political issues. Only in editing was her book reduced to one-third its original size, making it appear the feminist fire in the belly was her only driving force.
Her book is witty and provides a road map to all the Robertses in local politics. She tells of being introduced to Mary Wendy Roberts, a future state senator and labor commissioner who had been her stepdaughter for four years. They had never met.
She tells of trying to adapt to the male-dominated Court of Appeals under Judge Herb Schwab. He ran a court filled with people who didn’t much like talking to each other because they had run against one another in earlier political races. Talk about political tension!
Douglas Yocom watched Roberts’ political career as a political and editorial writer for The Oregon Journal and The Oregonian.