Cleora Smith Roberts

July 28, 1941July 5, 2018

Cleora S. Roberts "Cleo", Ph.D., age 76, of Lutz, Fl, passed away on July 5, 2018 under the care of Hospice. Our dear Cleo fought a long, frustrating battle with Parkinson's Disease, but was unable to recover from recent injuries suffered at her ALF.

She was born on July 28, 1941 in Jeromesville, Ohio. She was the middle sibling of three daughters born to Howard and Eileen (Westfall) Smith.

Cleo was born and raised on a farm in rural Ohio in an era when women were expected to stay at home, raise the children, and support the husband in a secondary role. Cleo realized that she had much more to offer and wanted to excel beyond this expectation. Early on, she knew that she wanted to make an impact on people who were less fortunate as well as those who were victims of social injustice. She chose the obvious field of social work. She completed her undergraduate studies in psychology at Ohio University and continued her education at Ohio State, earning her MSW in 1964. That same year she married Jerry on August 29 and they immediately moved to California. She began her career as a clinical social worker in Stockton, CA and worked in a variety of settings in Sacramento and Eureka, where their first child (Craig) was born. After the family moved to Michigan in 1972, they had their second child (Jennifer) and she continued her career in Clawson and Saginaw.

While in Michigan, she had the opportunity to work as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Family Practice for Michigan State University and as a field work instructor in the School of Social Work for the University of Michigan. It was during this period (1976-1980) when she realized how much she enjoyed the field of education. As fate would have it, the family relocated to Columbus, Ohio, where she enrolled in classes for her Ph.D. at Ohio State University. Fate dealt yet another change and the family moved to Atlanta, GA. There she continued her education at Georgia State University, earning her Ph.D. in Educational Research in 1986.

Upon graduation, the family relocated to Tampa, FL where Dr. Roberts began a part-time assignment at Moffitt Cancer Center. In 1987 she began her 20-year career as a social work professor at USF (GO BULLS). During her tenure at USF, she taught research methods across the curriculum. She was instrumental in helping to further develop the MSW program and was one of the key curriculum authors of the Ph.D. program in social work. Dr. Roberts distinguished herself as an outstanding educator and an exceptional research scholar in social work and oncology. She retired from USF as Professor Emerita in 2008 and received the Lifetime Achievement Award in Social Work Education in 2013.

Outside of her professional life, Cleo always made time for her family and friends. She enjoyed playing tennis (especially mixed doubles with her husband) and bridge, as well as travel. She visited all 50 states and more than 20 countries on 4 continents. Her grandchildren will forever remember summer vacations at the lake house in Apple Valley Ohio where they enjoyed tubing, skiing, and making smores by the fire. Once health issues made it impossible to spend summers in Ohio, she continued to organize memorable family vacations at Jekyll Island, Destin, Disney, and Lake Lure.

She is preceded in death by her parents and two special brothers-in-law (Donn Donelson and Charles Welek). She is survived by her husband, Jerry; her son Craig (Ashley); her daughter Jennifer Ford (Nicolas); five grandchildren who were the sunshine in her life: Alyssa (18); Kayla (14) Isabel (14); Charlie (12); Jacob (6). She is also survived by her two sisters, Lorene Donelson and Virginia Welek, brother-in-law John (Cindy) Roberts, and sister-in-law Pam Roberts (Dan Shinedling).

Memorial Gifts may be directed to the “Cleo & Jerry Roberts Doctoral Student Support Fund” at the USF School of Social Work. Make checks payable to the USF Foundation Inc., with the fund name and/or fund number (#421800) on the memo line, and mail them to the USF Foundation at: USF Foundation, Inc. 4202 E Fowler Avenue, ALC 100 Tampa FL 33620 Or memorial gifts may be made online at:


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Cleora Smith Roberts

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Dee Keiser

July 11, 2018

Keeping the Roberts family in my thoughts and prayers. Cleo was a vibrant woman that loved talking about her grandchildren. She was always so sweet and kind and very supportive of the School of Social Work at USF. I will miss her smile.