In the 1990s, half a century after graduating from the University of Maine Orono, Midi Roberts returned to the campus where she had thrived as a pioneering student-athlete.
She was presented with the prestigious Block M Award for her commitment to her class at the university where, as an undergraduate, Mrs. Roberts started the women’s basketball team and helped create the women’s intramural sports program.
Exhibiting the same tenacity while working as a waitress at the Kimball House in Northeast Harbor, Maine, as a young woman, she once tackled one of the dishwashers, Ernie Roberts, during a touch football game. They married in 1949, and he later became a Globe sports columnist and executive sports editor.
“My mom recalled that moment, saying, ‘When you see what you want, you go for it,’ ” said their daughter, Jean.
Mrs. Roberts, first female alumni president of the University of Maine’s class of 1944, died Oct. 1 from complications of anemia. She was 94 and had lived with her daughter in Dayton, Maine.
“She was a remarkable person, a great athlete with a wonderful outgoing personality, and a sparkplug in our $2 million fund-raising effort to build the Class of ’44 Hall for the university’s School of Performing Arts,” said former classmate Al Ehrenfried, the current class of ’44 alumni president and a family friend.
Known for its extensive generosity, the class of 1944’s contributions have included funds to rebuild the Bear’s Den, the popular campus pub, and to build the men’s baseball team training facility.
Born in Old Town, Maine, where she graduated from high school at 16, Mildred Wooster Roberts was the youngest of seven children, a daughter of Harry Wooster and the former Sarah Poole.
“She was a self-proclaimed tomboy,” her daughter said.
Mrs. Roberts would barter with her brother Harry, taking on his chores so he would include her in sporting activities.
She was close to her brother, Dick, who in the early 1940s, would send her money for train fare to New York City, where the siblings would go to the jazz venues in Harlem, including the Savoy and Cotton Club, and dance to the sounds of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington orchestras.
Her passion for music and dancing – and for competition – was equaled by her disaffection for routine domestic chores. One diary entry from 1992 included the lines “A clean house is a sign of a misspent life” and “Help keep my kitchen clean – eat out!”
She was, however, “the first to raise her hand if you wanted to play golf, go cross-country skiing, or play a game of cribbage or bridge,” Jean said.
Mrs. Roberts won numerous club championships in golf and tennis at the Cohasset Golf Club, the Bar Harbor Club, and the Heritage Ridge Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. She recorded an impressive five holes in one on the links.
Called Midi since childhood, Mrs. Roberts completed college early so that she could join the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. She trained in physical therapy, aiding wounded soldiers, and attained the rank of lieutenant. “She was so affected by the damaged bodies of the men she treated that she later protested in antiwar demonstrations during the Vietnam War,” Jean said.
When Mrs. Roberts and her husband lived in Cohasset, she worked for the Hingham school system, teaching students with learning challenges.
“They had a fairytale life,” Jean said. “Both loved traveling to sporting events, meeting famous athletes, and playing the sports they mutually loved.”
Ernie Roberts worked at the Globe from 1947 until he retired in 1983, except for a stint as sports information director at Dartmouth College from 1960-66. Among the couple’s closest friends were their card-playing and skiing companions Charlie and Patsy Harvey.
“Midi was high-spirited and immensely kind and I admired her,” said Patsy, whose late husband formerly was a sports information director at Boston College.
After Ernie Roberts retired, the couple moved to a home they built in Franklin, Maine, on Taunton Bay, where they hosted get-togethers of her Wooster family relatives.
Earlier this year, in April, Mrs. Roberts was among 45 veterans invited to an honor flight reception in Washington, D.C., in recognition of their military service.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Roberts leaves two sons, Jon of Portsmouth, N.H., and Nick of Atlanta; two grandchildren; and two step-grandchildren.
On Saturday, the Roberts family, the extended Wooster family, and close friends gathered in Old White Church in Buxton, Maine, to remember Mrs. Roberts with a celebration that featured a swing band, dancing, and some of her favorite games, including cribbage and Ping-Pong.
“She made friends easily, knew how to compete, and definitely knew how to have a good time,” her daughter said.
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