By Mike Mahn
‘born on a mountaintop in Tennessee,’ and did not, despite rumors to
the contrary, ‘kill a B’ar when he was only 3.’ Roy Dalton Roberts
was born in Decatur,
Alabama. His mother had heard the name Dalton and liked it. He is a lover of wild animals, with the exception of squirrels, though
in his adult years he would gain notoriety for slaying the political
equivalent of Grizzly Bears.
He was devoted
to his mother and inspired by his father, both of whom had uncommon
talents for oral and written expression. His two children are the joy of
his life. He finds his greatest solace and fulfillment in music and
writing. He was the most well-known man in his community for many years.
His greatest gift to his fellow citizens may have been the saving and
rebuilding of his hometown, Chattanooga.
He is a lover
of God and His Son. He is a student of the many pathways that humanity
travels in its quest to find the Maker of the universe, whom he thinks
plainly visible in his backyard garden. He touched thousands of lives in
a plain and profound manner, uplifting many, consoling and comforting
others, sharing laughter and love with countless many, weeping freely
and openly in the company of dearly loved friends at moments of loss.
His life has
not been without errors of judgment or indulgences that are the common
affliction of humanity, but he has accepted his limitations and failures
and learned to forgive himself as he was forgiven, and as he forgives
others, overcoming many obstacles and personal challenges with a
powerful, relentless love.
He will be
remembered in a thousand different ways by a thousand different people.
I remember him as the man who saved my life when I was young, guided me
as I matured, and comforted me as I was buffeted by the bumps in
life’s road. I remember him also as a person who can make me laugh
until tears roll from my eyes. His rock-like steadfastness as a friend
has been, and continues to be an anchor during times of great stress and
anxiety. He is my hero. Next to my father, Dalton Roberts is the
greatest man I’ve ever known.
What more can I
say? What more can any person say about another?
He was the
first person who welcomed me the first day I entered the Hamilton County
Courthouse in March, 1975. I did not know who he was at the time, but he
introduced himself and said, “If there is ever anything you need, let
me know.” He meant it and I never forgot that. Within a year, he would
be engaged in a conflict that would eventually cost him the position of
County Manager. He would be thrown out of county government and would
face the greatest personal crisis of his life.
18 months after
that dark time, he would return to the Courthouse triumphant, having
vanquished his foes in a manner that is still almost Biblical in its
suddenness, a genuine Deus ex
machina that reflected, in my opinion, the hand of a power greater
than that of mere mortals. He came back as the first Hamilton County
Executive and would serve four terms and could have stayed as many more
as he may have desired.
He would honor
me, despite my tender years, as his first appointee, handing me the
position he previously held, renamed as County Administrator. He
invested and challenged me with a portfolio of responsibility that
included the departments of county government. He believed that earning
trust required trust and I never forgot the trust he had given me.
We would become
partners in adventures both political and professional. Working with him
was a great joy. The years flew and the challenges came and went.
Steadily he hammered against the anvil of adversity, resurrecting a City
that was close to dying when he arrived. He reaped many honors, but his
deepest pride was in watching the development of associates as each
progressed in accomplishment, whether professional or personal,
regardless of whether they were hourly workers on the swing shift or a
determination reflected a confidence that infected his staff, his
government, and, eventually, the entire community. It would not be
correct to say he revitalized Chattanooga by himself, but it would be
just as wrong to say that without him Chattanooga would still have
recovered and prospered. He was the indispensable person at the critical
moment in the life of the City. His satisfaction is in knowing that he
had done all he could do, and had been blessed by having the opportunity
to serve his community.
I knew when he
was nearing the end of his public service and he knew it, too. There was
some trepidation on his part as he made his transition from public life,
with its seductive trappings of power and prestige, such as is bestowed
on prominent political figures. Yet, he was among the very few who have
held and known such prominence but were ready to lay it down without
regret and graciously hand-over the reins of stewardship. Few others
have ever done so much and left a community so ready and prepared to
meet the challenges of the future.
from county government was a tectonic plate-shifting event in the life
of Hamilton County, but it was only the beginning of a new phase in the
life of this most remarkable man. It was but the molting of a
caterpillar, a rung on the ladder of his life, and, in perspective, now
7 years since he left the Courthouse, it is clear to see that he has
continued to grow in stature and accomplishment, having shed the
limitations and constraints of public office, and released his energies
in the field of written and musical expression with a verve, vigor and
vibrancy that brings delight to all who share his company, read his
writings, hear his music, or see him perform.
these impressions, I think of him mostly as the man who finds
contentment watching bluebirds build their nests and care for their
young as he sits in his modest home, looking out the window to his
backyard, or stooping to check a tomato in the garden God gave him to