Jean Ellen Roberts, a Michigan-born thespian, passed peacefully on Tuesday, the 6th of September, surrounded by loving family in her south Salt Lake City home. She was 76.
Jean was born in Michigan on April 18, 1935 to Mary Ellen Newell and Lester Rossbach, Jean survived husband Conrad Lawrence Roberts, whom she married in 1955. Jean and Conrad were actors and opened the summer theatre “Tip of the Thumb” in Port Austin, Mich. in 1964.
Jean, Conrad and their four daughters moved to Moab, Utah in 1972. The pair promptly founded Moab Community Theatre, which continues to produce theatre to this day. Conrad passed unexpectedly in 1973 during rehearsals for “Bus Stop,” Moab Community Theater’s premier production.
Jean’s contributions to Utah’s theatrical community are seen in the many she touched with her indelible directorial skills and her persuasive, passionate performances. Her colorful sense of humor revealed an underlying depth which imparted sensitive insights to the fortunate persons with whom she worked and played.
Jean moved to Salt Lake City in 1985, where she was influential to family and friends. Time spent time with grandchildren included teaching her love of theatre while attending matinees at the Grand Theater with Michael, acting onstage with Cody at Westminister Theater, and encouraging Amelia in her love of ballet.
Salt Lake City theatregoers know Jean from Salt Lake City performances in Salt Lake Acting Company and Pioneer Theatre Company.
Her calling card read: Jean “the Neon Queen” Actress, Marble Lady, Survivor.
She knew how to enjoy life so well, to give generously in spite of austerity, and more than to survive, she knew how to thrive with fierce aplomb and fine flamboyance through the vicissitudes of loss, aneurysm, and multiple strokes in her later years. Jean collected buttons, marbles, glitter, mylar, prisms, any objects that captured light. She used them to amuse and illuminate herself and others, even to heal.
After suffering an aneurysm on stage while playing the death scene “Granma Joad” in the Pioneer Theatre Company production of “Grapes of Wrath,” she began her remarkable recovery from a subsequent coma and debilitating stroke. This process included the aid of what she called “special forces”: family and friends who helped, a great will to live, and marbles meditatively rolled in the hand to regain motor function.
She became known as “the Marble Lady,” using the gift of a single marble to anyone in need as an object of healing intention, a “worry stone” or to contain a loving wish. She instructed recipients to pass them along to others who might need them too, so as to continue the symbolic economy of the gift of compassion.
She is survived by her sister, Barbara Newell; her daughters, Karen Jo Roberts of Las Vegas, Nev., Christine Lynn Abernethy of Salt Lake City, Gretchen Ann Roberts of Ashland, Ore., Amy Jean Roberts of Salt Lake City; and her grandchildren, Todd Bock, Cody Bock, Michael Abernethy, Amelia Abernethy, Ian Buckingham, and great-grandaughter Alisha Bock, all of Salt Lake City.
To all Jean’s family and loved ones, she leaves behind the guidance “to be kind to one another, cherish life, have fun and be generous. Be generous with your time, your love, and your money. If only $5 a month, contribute to a cause you believe in and it will come back to you many times over.”
Jean asks loved ones to make a donation in her name to your preferred charity.
Jean’s body will be cremated and a memorial service will be held on Sept. 29 in Salt Lake City at 1 p.m. at Robert E. Fitts Park on 3000 South 500 East.
A Moab area memorial celebration of her life and cultural legacy will be held on Sunday, Oct. 2 at Rotary Park at 11 a.m.