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Volunteer Spotlight: Barbara Roberts

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Photo by Owen Carey

For more than 20 years, former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts has advocated for choice at the end of life. Her husband, late State Senator Frank Roberts, introduced the Oregon Death with Dignity Act three times in the state Legislature before cancer claimed his life in 1993. A year later citizens passed the law by ballot initiative during Gov. Roberts’ tenure. She continues to lend her voice to similar campaigns nationwide, saying, “I carry my husband’s wishes into the future, but I also carry my advocacy into the future for people in states that are awaiting the opportunity to have such a caring law.”

Her work with Compassion & Choices includes serving on the Oregon Advisory Board, testifying at hearings across the nation and recently being featured in a television ad during the successful ballot initiative for the Colorado End-of-Life Options Act. In December, she invited 700 guests to her 80th birthday party benefitting Compassion & Choices. Even as she gets older, she has no plans of slowing down. ”I have a piece of experience that not many people have,” she says. “It would be wasteful not to use that status to try to enhance and expand the law across the country.”

Governor Roberts’ perspective provides lawmakers and citizens alike with the equivalent of two decades of experience in Oregon. Advocates no longer need to start from scratch, “They get to start with the experiences of the other states, more and more numbers, more and more cases, and more and more stories.” And for Gov. Roberts, those stories are what propel the movement across the nation. She knows from experience that “every time one of us tells our story, whatever that story is, it makes a difference.”