By Elizabeth Vega
Dancing with the Stars premiered its 20th season last Monday night.
But the following Tuesday morning at the Administrative Service Center would be different for Pamela Payne.
After routinely grabbing coffee and spending a few minutes critiquing dances on the show with colleagues, the absence of one fan, EPCC Vice President Dr. Ernie Roberts II, was devastatingly noticeable.
Dr. Ernest Roberts lost his battle with cancer on March 5.
“He [Roberts] and his wife watched Dancing with the Stars,” Payne, the Executive Assistant to the President and Board of Trustees, said.
“So Tuesday mornings we [colleagues] would all just talk saying ‘Hey did you watch that?’ or ‘Did you catch that performance?’ That was something we had all done.
Just him not being here, you know, makes that different.
I’m going to miss that.” Roberts died on March 5
after a bout with cancer. He was 63. A vigil was held on March 15 at Sunset Funeral Home Northeast.
The funeral mass was the following day at St. Raphael Catholic Church with a private burial after.
With a career at EPCC spanning more than 40 years, Roberts began as a faculty member in the psychology discipline and worked his way from director of human resource development, executive assistant to the president, interim president from September 2011 to July 2012 and lastly, Vice President of Administration and Financial Operations.
Knowing him for almost 27 years, Payne described Roberts as a kind man, one who, when
her daughter Ashley was five years old, would take the time to thank her for pictures of hearts and flowers she colored and slid underneath his office door on Saturday mornings.
“She always loved Dr. Roberts because he always took time to talk to her when she would come by the office,” Payne said. “He always would be so sweet to her.
He always took the time to appreciate everybody, it didn’t matter how young or old you were.”
Fighting back tears, Payne said Roberts loved the college and had a great work ethic, saying he worked up until the week before he passed away.
She also said his family, wife Laurel, their sons Evan and Alan, their spouses and children, were extremely important to him.
“It’s hard to believe,” Payne added. “Hard to believe he’s not going to be here.
I think the biggest thing is we’re just going to miss him so much.
We’re going to miss his smile, his good nature, his kindness, his compassion.
“Right now, since everything is still intact in his office, it’s just kind of like he’s not here, but not that he’s gone.That he’s just not in the office.”
Roberts was inducted into El Paso’s Business Hall of Fame in 2013.
He served as board chairman for Channel 13-KCOS public television, an executive board member of
the Yucca council and as a past president of the Vista Hills Rotary Club.
With his first meeting with Roberts in 1983, Dr. Richard Rhodes, President of Austin Community
College and former president of EPCC, said he highly respected Roberts’ honesty and integrity something that, in 1989 when Rhodes was the interim president of EPCC, had convinced him to ask Roberts to be the executive assistant to the president.
“I knew whenever we were in a situation he [Roberts]
would be honest, and he held true to that,” he said.
Rhodes was hopeful when he first found out Roberts
had cancer about four years ago.
He said he last spoke to Roberts about a month before
“We didn’t talk long, but we spoke about getting together to play golf. It was something we did together,” Rhodes said.
It would be the last conversation the two shared. “I tried to call him about a week before he passed
away, but he didn’t answer, so I left a message.
“That Thursday night I got a call from his phone,”
“So his name popped up on my screen
and I thought it was him. When I heard his son speaking,
I knew he passed.”
More than a colleague, Rhodes saw Roberts as family.
“He was like a brother to me,” he said.
“A younger brother, even though he was just about four months younger than me. I just loved him like a brother. He was a man of integrity and a great, great friend.”
Roberts, whose father was a commanding general at Fort Bliss, worked for nearly five years to help in the establishment of an EPCC campus on the military base.
He grew up on base and was there when the college
first started offering courses at Logan Heights.
In December 2012, EPCC got the lease agreement with the Department of Defense and the Army to build EPCC’s sixth campus on Fort Bliss.
The campus is expected to open in the fall of 2018.
It was one of the many crowning achievements Roberts had, according to EPCC president Dr. William
Serrata, and the one he was most passionate about.
Although Serrata said he will miss Robert’s calming presence, conversations they shared and his attendance at cabinet meetings, they don’t compare to what he’ll miss the most.
“I’ll miss the fact, more than anything, that he [Roberts] won’t be there when we open the Fort Bliss
campus,” he said.
“That’s what’s most troubling to me. We will make sure his family is there, his wife Laurel will be there, his boys and their spouses and children, if
they can make it.”
Serrata said the college, community and Robert’s family lost him far too soon.
“He was tremendous to me,” Serrata said.
“He was a mentor and a colleague and knew the area and knew the institution inside and out.
“He was just a really good man, really genuine and a very giving and selfless man. Dr. Roberts is the epitome of a gentleman and a scholar. Just a kind, kind man.”