BY JACK SHORT – Peter Roberts has a small town sensibility, tempered by southern hospitality.
There’s also some Texan straight-shooting in there, literally and figuratively, which is something you don’t get to say very often.
He grew up in Old Greenwich, Ct., hence the small town influence. But Peter went to lengths to avoid staying planted there, making his way to bigger cities like Chicago and eventually Houston, where he spent much of his career before coming to Boca Grande.
He is, most recently, the new president of the Barrier Island Parks Society, the citizen support organization authorized to conduct, among other things, fundraising activities for the state parks locally. As of its last meeting, the organization has undertaken to restore the ailing Rear Range Light, otherwise known as “what most people are looking at when they go hunting for the Lighthouse.”
Old Greenwich was then a town of about 15,000 people, Peter figured, and served mainly as a bedroom community for people who worked in New York City. Peter’s father, Lawrence, didn’t work in New York, but in Stamford, Ct., as a wholesaler. Peggy, his wife, was a director of the Congregational Church nursery school.
Old Greenwich offered up a slew of good experiences; sledding in the winters and, in warmer weather, it was close enough to Todd’s Point, a public beach on Long Island Sound.
Those summer trips to the sound eventually sparked an interest within him in swimming. After his parents joined the Rocky Point Swim Club, he became a competitive club swimmer. He also swam and played soccer at Greenwich High School.
Peter said he didn’t have any concrete plans for college, but at the advice of his high school guidance counselor applied to a school in West Virginia, West Virginia Wesleyan, which had very good swimming and soccer programs, though there were no athletic scholarships for either at that time.
Peter said he enjoyed his independence. He knew he wanted to leave the Greenwich area.
“I went to as remote a college as I could,” he said.
He admitted he’d hoped West Virginia would be sufficiently warm, but was a little disappointed by what seemed to be colder winters than Connecticut’s.
He went all-conference for each sport, and eventually became captain of WVW’s soccer and swim teams, and studied business administration. Though he didn’t have a solid plan, Peter knew he was an outgoing individual whose strengths might lie in sales and marketing.
When he graduated he began interviewing in New York, but accepted a position with Pitney Bowes, headquartered in Stamford, where he would train for six months before being given the opportunity to transfer where he liked.
Peter was no stranger to work. He always worked and always had his own money, his own car, independence. He had started delivering newspapers when he was 12. During summers between high school or college semesters he worked at Watts Hardware in his hometown, or in Atlantic City, parking cars among the deteriorating casinos.
He chose to go to Atlanta, Georgia where, once again, he hoped for a more moderate climate. But it seemed he still hadn’t aimed far enough south.
But if he hadn’t gone to Atlanta, he might not have continued dating his college sweetheart, Linda, who graduated from WVW at the same time as Peter and had returned to Naples where her family lived. She began working for Eastern Airlines as a stewardess shortly afterwards and they transferred her to Atlanta.
Neither Peter nor Linda meant to end up in the same city. They had met on a blind date during their sophomore year of college.
From Atlanta, Peter was recruited to Chicago by General Computer Systems. GCS developed a method, radical at the time, that allowed data to be stored on hard disk, rather than the 80 column punch cards common to IBM computers.
But IBM wouldn’t allow change to come from a small, upstart company, Peter said, and they went out of business two years after recruiting him. He returned to Pitney Bowes, this time in Houston, where he and Linda, since married, had their son, Peter. They would stay in Houston for the remainder of his career.
“I started moving up through the ranks,” he recalled.
Between 1975 and 1982, he was sales team manager, then area manager, then assistant branch manager. The latter required he move briefly to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He had no comment about the weather there.
Peter would return to Houston as district manager, and Louisiana. He ran one of Pitney Bowes’ top three offices, deflecting offers to return to Stamford (referred to during the interview as “The Tundra”) and the bureaucracy of headquarters.
Peter retired in 2000 when he was 55. As he said, he still had a lot of energy, and so when he was introduced by a colleague’s wife to poultry trading, he entered a partnership called Houlihan Trading, and spent five years occupied with that enterprise – but not excessively so.
“I worked out of my house,” he said. “I could work when I wanted to and play golf when I wanted to.”
The Texas lifestyle defined him – family values, work ethic, and strong families, as he said – but memories of his small town upbringing in Greenwich started tugging at him, and the commercial atmosphere in Houston had lost some of its luster.
Because Linda’s family lived here, she and Peter already knew about Boca Grande and, in 2003, they moved here.
“I had a lot in common with the people in Texas,” he said. “And I found a lot of the same values here.”
He and Linda are both deeply involved with the Boca Grande United Methodist Church. Linda volunteers for the Strawberry Festival and church breakfasts, and Peter chaired the staff-parish relations and trustee committees.
After his tenure on those committees was over, he joined BIPS, and became president this year.
“I joined the board of BIPS two years ago because their mission of conservation is something I’m passionate about,” he said.
As an avid bird hunter and fisherman, he understands the need for conservation, he said.
He added that he was drawn to BIPS because of that passion for conservation, and by the three legs on which the organization stands: ecological interests, historical interests, creating a pristine environment for children.