About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
Born in Illinois, I grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. I am married, for the 2nd time now, to Butch & got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me grandmother 25 times over & great-grandmother to over 20!. After many years working in industry, I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication, & was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 & returned to school & got my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore & genealogy - & add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/author/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play many folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I write the "Aunty Jeff" column for the Informer, newsletter of the Jefferson County NY Gen. Soc. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega & Sara Cochran as Genealogy Journeys® where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that: genaandjean.blogspot.com. More on our podcasts: genjourneys.podbean.com. More about my own projects: Circlemending.org.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Memorial for my Friend, Pernell Roberts (1928-2010)

One of my oldest friends has died. I am heartsick, but know that he is finally released from his pain and suffering. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer almost 3 years ago & fought it with every fiber of his being. Now he is at peace . . . and his loved ones left behind are mourning and hurting.

I first met Pernell Roberts in 1966. By 1969 we had forged a friendship and, after I moved to California in 1973, we ended up virtually neighbors (1 mile apart . . . which is essentially next door in California parlance). His wife & I became close friends & allies. And when I had problems or quandaries, it was to them I went for solace. Many an issue was discussed over Chinese food and pizza (not at the same time). He taught me to appreciate bleu cheese and anchovies. He also taught me to love myself and seek out the right paths for me, regardless of what others might think. I remember more than once, visiting a book store with him while he selected texts that would have particular application to me and my life.

When I met Butch & knew I was going to be serious about the guy, I took him to meet Pernell (to get approval?). In fact, as I have made many changes and adjustments throughout life, I have talked them over with Pernell. He was a mentor as well as a friend. Pernell's interest in my own father's past and Dad's involvement in the field of mathematics at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study gave me greater appreciation of my own roots.

Our last visits took place in 2008, after his surgery. We sang, shared stories, I shared some of his genealogy with him (showing him a census record that had his name on it - something not everyone gets to see in his/her life), and cried together. A few months later I returned with a friend, who insisted on taking a photo of me with him - I think we all knew it would be the last (I have many photos taken of the 2 of us together, but this one I will cherish as it was taken on our last in-person visit).

(photo, above, by Kim Marlow - 2008)

Though we spoke on the phone many times since that day (42 years after we first met), being 100 miles apart and having schedules that never seemed to be in sync meant that I was not to see him again. I have come to grips with that because the last visits were so positive and he, also, expressed pleasure in having good days at those times (as anyone who is familiar with cancer knows, some days are better than others).

Yesterday I received the phone call I had been dreading - my friend of so many years had passed away. A short while later the information was released to the media. I have met many wonderful folks who have been long-time Pernell Roberts fans, falling in love with young Adam Cartwright on Bonanza, but I met him after he left the show and, though I first was "introduced" to him as Adam on that show, I became far more impressed with his performances as Padraic Madigan (The Big Valley), Jim Boyer (The Virginian), Joey Celeste (The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.), Hezekiah Horn (The Young Riders), and so many other characters that it would (and does) fill pages. I was blessed to have visited the set of Trapper John, M.D. on many occasions and get to watch him as he developed that memorable character after the M*A*S*H years. And I was fortunate enough to have seen him on stage numerous times in 6 different plays, seeing him as the King in The King and I, Rhett Butler in the musical version of Gone with the Wind, Professor Harold Hill in The Music Man, and others. But the "character" I came to love the best was the story-telling, song-swapping, advice-giving Pernell Elven Roberts, Jr. That's whom I will miss every day for the rest of my life.

As I state on my website, I believe that who we are is largely a result of the people we have connected with in our lives. I believe that the biological connections can be instrumental in forming who we become and developing what talents lie within our genes, but I also believe that the personal associations we engage in can be just as influential. Pernell Roberts has influenced my life since I was in my early teens and that influence has led to various choices I have made. We shared a love of words and their origins (frequently introducing each other to another "find" in the etymological field) and the folk music genre (swapping songs and reminiscing about favorite performers). While he did not introduce me to either of those interests, his fueling them has caused me to explore both arenas that much more. And he has been an example of what an ethical human being should be: his efforts on behalf of those less fortunate and those in minority groups have been tremendous, though not publicized as some celebrities do.

I remember when I got a small guest part as a square dance caller on the short-lived TV show with Madeline Kahn - Oh! Madeline! - I called Pernell and his wife to tell them. Pernell got on the phone and bellowed, "Welcome to the big time!" He and his wife recorded my appearance (Butch & I had not yet entered the techy age of VCRs) so that I could remember that "big time." When I was in high school, I wrote a song for him; the chorus goes: "Thank you for just being you;/ No one else could ever do What you've done for me/ Can't you see? Because of you, I'm a better me." Pernell, I guess now, someone else is saying to you: "Welcome to the big time!"


  1. My sincere condolences on the loss of your friend. I, too, followed him on TV....loving his various portrayals. How special that you had him as a friend outside the media. A deep loss.

  2. Jean, we know how much you loved him, and more importantly, so does he. Prayers for blessings and comfort are with you today as you morn his loss.

  3. Thank you for sharing your tribute. I realize how hard this must have been to write. While we have lost an icon, you have lost a dear friend. What I will cherrish most about Pernell is how he unknownly gave me a great friend in you.

  4. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful memorial. As I watch my 90 year old mother failing from rapidly from lung cancer, I can certainly relate to your words. That picture is worth a thousand words. Cherish it and cherish the memories you have with your dear friend. Best wishes


  5. A wonderful tribute to a friend. Thank you for sharing this, and my condolences.

  6. Oh, I'm so sorry for your loss. He had a good friend!

  7. Jean, I am so sorry to read about the loss of your dear friend.

  8. This is Bernie,from Argentina. I'm sending you all my sympathy. He was a wonderful man that I won't forget and of course a great and unforgettable actor.
    God bles you .

  9. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful friend. I have some idea of how you feel because my heart's broken, too.
    Thanks for everything, friend.
    All my love,

  10. Jean, what a wonderful photo and an equally outstanding tribute!

    I wish I had met the man, but the photo more than conveys his warmth and love for life.

    My sympathies to you and Butch--as well as your dear friend Kara--at this time of profound loss.

    All the best,
    Dorothy Kosich


  11. Such a beautiful tribute. Thank you.

    Pernell was such an embodiment of everything that was good about the 1960s, with its promise and re-assesment along with its tragedy and heartache. Pernell should be remembered as one of that decades brightest lights. I never knew him, but that never stopped him from being one of my cherished heroes.

    Rest in Peace, Pernell Roberts.


  12. Jean,
    Thanks for sharing this lovely remembrance. Pernell was a wonderful man, a good friend, and a big part of my life, especially when I was just beginning as an actor. He was a true inspiration to me, as he was to many actors over the years. I was so lucky to have shared the screen with him for nearly eight seasons, and am deeply saddened at his passing. Fortunately, he lives on in the memories of his fans, and in the hearts of the lucky people, like you and me, that he touched personally. I'll be forever grateful to him.
    Gregory Harrison

  13. This is a very sad time for his friends, family and fans. Thank you for sharing your fond memories with us and for posting that beautiful picture. I am very sorry for your loss.

  14. Thank-you for sharing a part of Mr. Roberts with us.From what I have read here,you both are so very fortunate to have found such a beautiful friendship.Very precious and rare in a world filled with loneliness.
    Pernell Roberts has touched the hearts of many,the only man who could bring me tears with his portrayals of some of the most kind,loving and caring men.Such a talented ,handsome man with the most beautiful voice I have ever heard,
    he will be missed by all. My condolences to you and all his loving family and friends.
    An amazing man who will never be forgotten.
    Take care

  15. He was a wonderful man, talented singer and actor. The world will miss him. My sincere condolences to his friends and family.

    Heather F

  16. My heart aches. I am sorry for the loss of your friend.

  17. Thank you Jean for sharing this with us fans. Pernell was first interduced to me as Adam Cartwright 40 years ago I was hooked from that point on. My sincere condolences to his family and friends. As much as the loss of this wonderful man has broke my heart, can't imagine being a close friend and lossing him. He is just such a very special individual and he will be forever in my heart. Now the angals get to enjoy that beautiful voice. I salute you Mr. Roberts
    Maribeth S.

  18. Beautiful tribute Jean! What a wonderful man! I only wish I had had the opportunity to meet him.

  19. Jean, thank you for sharing your lovely tribute to an extraordinary man. I've been so happy to see blog posts, articles, comments online at news sites and obituary guestbooks, etc., emerge since his death that bring out aspects of the real man, the one whom you knew and loved so well, that went beyond specific roles he played. I always appreciated the way you would carefully share some stories about him on some of the Bonanza message boards and e-mail lists and in fan gatherings but always very judiciously, without violating confidences and always respecting his privacy and your friendship.You were a true friend to him, as he was to you.Thank you for sharing him with us, and my condolences on your loss, and Eleanor's and that of all the dear friends who cherished him, which is so much greater than our own, who only kew him through his marvelous performances and what we've heard and read of his personal character. Having lost my husband to pancreatic cancer only three years ago, I know only too well what his loved ones must have been through over the past few years.

    I also enjoyed your word-origin articles in Bonanza Gold, even more so to know that Pernell also had a fascination with word origins, as I do. I wish I'd had the opportunity to meet him and discuss that topic or any others with him and to hear that fantastic voice in person. He will be greatly missed. My thoughts and prayers are with you and Eleanor and all his family and friends.

    Valerie Ellis

  20. Lovely -- thanks so much for commenting at the MaryJanesFarm Suburban Farmgirl blog so we could see this. I love your comment: "I believe that who we are is largely a result of the people we have connected with in our lives."

    Paula Spencer

  21. Beautiful words to remember a great human being... Thanks for share this.
    My sympathies to you.

    Gaby Albertini
    Bs.As., Argentina

  22. I wish I could have commented sooner, but I just discovered you tribute. I just wanted to express my condolences, and also to thank you for your wonderful tribute. I not only admired him as an actor, but also a man of integrity and convictions. Again, thank you for your memorial and sharing your friendship with him. Best Wishes, Steve Arnold

  23. Hi. I just read your beautiful tribute to Mr. Roberts & wanted to thank you for sharing it & offer my belated condolences. I'm so glad to know that he was just as nice in real life as I'd always imagined.
    Do you think maybe you'd be willing to talk more about him & post more pics of yourselves sometime in the future? I'd love to know how & where you met. Thank you in advance.

    Jada Stucker

  24. La verdad es que me emocioné hasta las la´grimas con lo que he leído, aunque lo traducí ya que soy de Chile. no hace tanto tiempo que lo conozco solo por su serie Bonanza, pero esa mirada trasmite algo maravilloso, y ahora sé que era un gran hombre...Su voz preciosa, ojalá lo hubiera conocido, pero trataré de conocer lo mejor a través de sus actuaciones. Muchas gracias por sus palabra, y se que en este momento debe estar con lo angeles....

  25. La felicito por su blog, yo quisiera haber estudiado música, pero aunque sea como hoby escucho muchos tipos de músicas, y me encanta la folclórica, tanto de mi país como de otros países...Toco algo de piano y me gusta mucho cantar, creo que la música es lo mas maravilloso que tiene el hombre, ya que es alimento para el alma. Mi padre es músico y desde pequeña que amo la música. cariños y seré seguidora de su página...

  26. Que gran dicha la suya de haber compartido y conocido a un gran hombre como Pernell Roberts, que Dios nuestro padre lo haya acogido con amor. Gracias por su blog, felicidades

  27. I read in an online article about your friend Pernell Roberts that he was part Native American. I was wondering, whether you could confirm that. I know that, besides his efforts on behalf of other minority groups, he also supported various Native American causes.

  28. What a beautiful memorial. I really enjoyed reading this. Life is so sad. I wish I had a friend like this in my life.

  29. As one of the hopeless fans of Pernell, I thank you for this beautiful memorial... Can not stop the tears falling down even if it's been quiet sometime since he's gone... appreciations.... :'(

    PS: at the age of 42, I've decided to train my voice and sing his songs in my way, in my country... I am a fan from the other side of the world :)

    When I succeed I will let you know because you're special...

  30. Maravilhosa mensagem! Obrigada por compartilhar conosco, fãs de Pernell Roberts.
    Heleusa - Brasil

  31. Such a nice tribute to your friend. Pernell Roberts. It gave me a smile to read this story. I'm glad I happened upon it. Thank you for sharing it so many years ago.

  32. I don't know if you come back to read these comments, but i want to thank you so very much for sharing your remembrances of this special man. He has held a part of my heart for as long as i can remember. My earliest memories are of watching Bonanza and I grew up wanting an Adam of my own. (I did get one). Even as a teenage girl when he was portraying Trapper John, I found him to be a comfort to me. I was going through health issues as was my dad (who was a true cowboy himself) and we were seeing the inside of a hospital too much, we loved watching Pernell play a surgeon, amd wished in my 15 year old way that he was my doctor.
    If there was one person I wish I could have been friends with, it would be him. Now as a woman in my 50s, I wish it even more, because we had so many interests in common and even now after his death, he is a wonderful teacher through people like yourself, who share his wisdom with us. My deepest condolences on the loss of your friend. I lost my dear husband to pancreatic cancer just 3 years after Mr. Roberts passed, and wonder why that monster takes my heros...those cowboys.
    Again Thank You.

  33. Beautiful tribute. We always carry Pernell Roberts in our hearts.


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