Photo courtesy of Moody Funeral Service
By Sarah Tillman Reeves
On Sunday April 2, students, alumni, faculty, and members of the greater Sewanee community gathered in All Saints’ Chapel to honor the life of the late Houston Bryan Roberson, Professor of History at Sewanee. All were invited to attend the service, providing an opportunity for the Sewanee community to celebrate Professor Roberson alongside many of his family members.
Roberson, who passed away over winter break after a year of serious illness, had been teaching history courses at Sewanee since 1997. The University sent an email to students and faculty over winter break announcing Roberson’s death. In the email, Professor of History Woody Register (C’80) described his colleague’s impact on Sewanee’s campus as the first African American to join Sewanee’s full-time faculty: “Houston brought the study of race and African American history to Sewanee in unprecedented and, it is fair to say, historic ways, and he profoundly altered the pattern and direction of the university’s curriculum as a whole.”
The memorial service was a further testament to Roberson’s influence on campus, featuring reflections from his students, colleagues, and family as well as a tribute vocal performance by his sister Teresa Roberson. Chassidy Inez Anders (C’10) recalled a time Roberson admonished her for being self-deprecating in class, a lesson in self-confidence which she claimed she has yet to forget. American Studies major Jonathan Brown (C’18) recounted a time he had gone to dinner at Roberson’s house where he had not only eaten a delicious meal but had also found reassurance and guidance from his professor in a difficult time. Other reflections, offered by Nicky Hamilton, Register, and Roberson’s sister Olivia Givens, emphasized the late professor’s humility and strength, themes which were echoed in the lyrics of the hymns selected for the service.
In addition to the hymns and readings, Sewanee Praise performed two songs at the conclusion of the service, “Soon As I Get Home” and “I Hear the Savior Say (Jesus Paid It All).” After the final prayers and blessings, Chaplain Tom Macfie (C’80, T’89) invited those in attendance to walk together to Convocation Hall for refreshments and conversation. Nearly all of those in attendance proceeded to Convocation Hall where they conversed over refreshments and among photographs of Roberson throughout his life.
When asked what he thought of the service, Brown remarked, “It was a great way to memorialize Professor Roberson, and the attendance spoke volumes about how much he meant to campus and how many lives he touched.”