Obituary for Alice (Robin) Roberts Powelson

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Alice (Robin) Roberts Powelson, of Boulder Colorado, beloved wife, mother, and grandmother, passed away shortly after midnight on March 1, 2021, from Alzheimer’s. She was 95. Her son and daughter were by her side earlier in the evening, and other family were there virtually and in their hearts. She was predeceased by her husband, John P. (Jack) Powelson, and their daughter, Cynthia L. Powelson, and is survived by their remaining children, Judith C. Powelson, of Honolulu, HI; Kenneth B. Powelson and his partner, Catherine C. Guimond, of Richmond, CA; Carolyn Powelson Campbell and her husband, Thomas A. Campbell, of Evergreen, CO; and Lawrence H. Powelson and his wife, Wallis Bolz, and their two children, Clarissa and Abram Powelson, of Seattle, WA.

Robin was born on March 8th, 1925. She grew up on her parents’, Byron and Lydia Roberts’, apple and peach farm in Marlton, New Jersey, working in the packing house during summers, and caring for her beloved horse, Dinah. She graduated from George School in1942, and Earlham College, with a major in Relief and Reconstruction, in 1946. After graduation, she set off for Europe alone to work at a refugee camp for orphaned children in Bad Aibling, Germany, under the auspices of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She helped create a loving, safe home environment for these often traumatized children at Bad Aibling, while working to repatriate them to their home countries if they wished, or, more often, finding them adoptive homes abroad.

She met her husband, Jack, in Europe, first at a hostel in Paris and then at Bad Aibling; they were married on the farm on Memorial Day in 1953. They lived overseas for years at a time, and travelled their entire lives. While Jack worked in the realms of policy and economic theory, Robin always found direct ways to connect with and help people. She and Jack once visited a family of twelve in Nairobi, and while the two men were in the back, the mother turned to Robin and said “I need help.” Robin found a way to provide her surreptitiously with birth control, and kept in touch with her for decades after that.

She was a talented writer, sending family letters to the extended family throughout their many years of travel. She had an immediacy, a wry and gentle humor, and an unerring eye for the heart of the story. She later edited these family letters down into five books, one for each child, each focussed on the stories in which they played starring roles.

Robin was also an artist, painting oils saturated with rich colors, and suffused with evocative forms. While her style was her own, it also reflected her love of Georgia O’Keefe and Franz Marc. Peaches, flowers, the dilapidated family barn, women in colorful Guatemalan dresses, and many, many other paintings grace the children’s walls.

Robin always connected to people directly. Status, theirs or hers, was irrelevant to her. When her children learned that the AFSC had won a Nobel Peace Prize for its relief work in 1947, and that she had therefore shared in the prize (she had never thought this detail important enough to tell them), she waved it away dismissively. When told she looked like she was off to save the world in a photo of her setting off for Europe, suitcase swinging in hand, she said, with her characteristic twinkle and laugh, “And we did it too! Now we just need to do it again!”

Robin was always quietly reaching out. At the Boulder Friends’ Meeting, Robin could always be found at tea introducing herself to new visitors, getting to know them, and knitting them into the community. She noticed other people’s difficulties before her own, and was there to help. Her children always felt her unconditional love and support. Although Alzheimer’s took her memory in the end, it did not touch her openness and eagerness to connect with the people around her. She was always ready with an appreciative smile and an inquisitive look when anyone approached, even when she had no idea who they were. She lived her life with grace to the end. She is sorely missed.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, August 7, 2021 at 10am, either at the Boulder Friends Meeting (1825 Upland Ave, Boulder, CO 80304) or across the street at Crestview Park.