CYNTHIA (Graham) ROBERTS, "Cindy"
• Community Organization
CYNTHIA (Graham) ROBERTS, "Cindy"
For the past five decades Cindy Roberts has been a dynamic force of nature who has been bringing people together to solve problems and to take advantage of opportunities that make Alaska and the world a better place. She grew up in California, graduated from the University of California at Berkley in the 60s, loved geography, science, and natural resource issues and believed that any problem was an opportunity for dialogue. She drove to Alaska in a VW bug and arrived in Anchorage in a blizzard in January of 1971.
Roberts grew up as the third generation of families residing in the small town of Auburn, California and when in college she worked summers in the School of Forestry doing air photo interpretation. She received a post-graduate scholarship to study in Själevad, Sweden, 1968-69, where she took up photography, was enchanted with the northern climate and became fluent in Swedish. Within two years, those language skills opened a door that changed her entire life.
After Sweden, Roberts had been hired to coordinating an “Un-Conference on the Environment” where the Western Wood Products Association of timber companies would listen to the environmental concerns of young university students and engage them in a dialogue about forest development and conservation in Portland, Oregon.
Walter J. Hickel, then the US Secretary of the Interior, was coming to Portland, to launch a radical new design of a powerplant on the Columbia River, involving a Swedish designer who led the design team. Robert’s Swedish language expertise landed her an introduction to Secretary Hickel and his speechwriter/aide, Malcolm Roberts. This encounter resulted in her subsequent marriage to Malcolm in November 1970. This was followed by fifty years of a happy and productive union, as well as a professional partnership in community involvement and Alaska public policy.
The Roberts drove to Alaska in 1971, where Malcom helped Wally Hickel write his first book and Cindy took up photography of people, developed composite photography projects and was also modeling furs for David Green Furriers, while also preparing for the birth of their first daughter, Cheyenne, in February 1972. The following year Malcom started his own consulting company and Cindy helped with research for resource projects as well as layout and design of brochures, reports, and video products for clients. She also prepared special editions of fashion photo projects for the Anchorage Daily News, as she prepared for the arrival of their son, Bret in 1974.
In 1978 Roberts was invited to be the Alaska contestant in the Mrs. America Pageant. They needed a representative from the 50th state. Oddly, they asked that she seek “permission” from her husband to participate, and they would give her a plane ticket and pay for all accommodations for the two weeks of the competition. While she thought it was silly, she discussed it with her husband and he said, “ Yes. It can be a great vacation for you. Just don’t win the damn thing.”
She borrowed an evening gown, and her mother-in-law came to oversee the 4- and 6-year-old children and managed the household when Cindy was in LA. Her talent was to present seven 16×20”Gallery photographs from her successful art show. She introduced the television audience to beautiful women from Alaska. She ultimately won the Mrs. America title. The judges commented on her extensive knowledge of public policy and economic issues in Alaska. As of this writing in 2021, Roberts is the only Alaska woman to succeed in such a national competition. She reflected on the educational opportunities of meeting with the leaders of National Organization for Women and initiating lifelong friendships with many women leaders. That year with the help of friends and family, Roberts skillfully balanced professional achievement and family life.
When Anchorage was selected as the US designated host city for the 1992 and 1994 Olympic Winter Games, both she and her husband, took an active role as Olympic ambassadors to the International Olympic Committee and worked on the “Olympics Yes!” campaign from 1985-1989. She conducted tours through East High, the proposed media center, for many members of the International Olympic Committee.
In 2006, Roberts was a delegate to the Greenland Environment Pollutions and Solutions conference in Sisimiut, Greenland, representing the Denali Commission and the State of Alaska, returning with comparable northern challenges and issues. In 1994, Roberts served as the Director of Public Works for the City of Wasilla and then served a year in the Anchorage School District as School Site Mentor to manage Alaska’s test case of the national School to Work project based at West High 1995-96.
Roberts served state government as State Liaison to the Denali Commission 2003-06 as coordinator of the USDA solid waste program. She designed the grant application process and managed $3 million to assist numerous villages, communities and organizations to improve their solid waste solutions. She also served as Special Assistant to Commissioner(s) of the Dept. of Natural Resources and the Dept. of Commerce, Community and Economic Development in Juneau during Hickel administration 1991-1994 finishing as Acting Commissioner of DCCED. She also served as founding staff to Alaska Science and Technology Foundation.
She represented the Commonwealth North Board on the Alaska Miner’s Association’s first high Arctic mine tour and filed the reports for the May 1982 edition of The Alaska Miner. Roberts was part of a state team that produced a publication entitled Sustaining Alaska’s Economy. In 1993 it was one of the top 100 publications nationally selected by the Government Publications Review for content and presentation.
In 2012, Roberts authored CRACKING THE CODE – A Citizen’s Guide to the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Discussion. This 200-term glossary clearly defines the working vocabulary first used in the Alaska Gasline Inducement Act of 2007 (AGIA). This 90-page booklet expanded her original 30-page document printed as an insert in the Alaska Business Monthly Magazine in 2008. She revised it in 2016.
Roberts was active in “Not in Our Town” demonstrations, political causes and campaigns to end discrimination of Muslim neighbors in 2011. Roberts also advocated for quality candidates for state government and was often active in their campaigns, notably that of Bill Walker and Byron Mallott and the Unity Ticket seeking the top leadership positions in Alaska in 2018. She also supported initiatives to repeal state laws that were a give-away of Alaska’s resources. The Roberts’ personal and political associations were key resources for Cyrano’s world-premiere production of “The Ticket”, a play about an imaginary meeting between Wally Hickel and Jay Hammond.
In 2007, Roberts retired from state government service and became an active member of BACKBONE II. It is a citizen organization supporting a natural gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez to sell Alaska’s vast gas resource to major markets in Asia. Backbone has also opposed mergers of oil field lease areas in the past.
Roberts’ favorite legacy to the state of Alaska is Bridge Builders as she was a founding member, in 1996. She loved the various activities, including participating in the 4th of July parades, international potluck dinners, and birthday celebrations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. During Anchorage’s Fur Rondy winter festival, Bridge Builders co-hosts the popular annual event “Meet the World” in Anchorage, in partnership with the Anchorage Museum. This event features forty cultures, each highlighting their heritage and traditions, including a showcase for many of our international dancers, drummers, musicians, and vocal groups. It helps us all appreciate what a rich, multi-cultural city Anchorage is, with over 100 languages spoken in the community. “Many friendships start as casual acquaintances by those who become mutually connected as history and depth are shared. This makes Anchorage truly a ‘community of friends,” said Elsa Sargento, former president of Bridge Builders.
As part of Roberts’ Bridge Builders work, she created the “Passport to Anchorage”, which is given to each family regarding tips on many of our cultures, such as food and alcohol issues, greeting traditions, religious preferences, and proper etiquette when visiting the home of someone from a specific culture. Each page includes greetings, food, dining traditions, gender issues, alcohol, eye-contact, significant colors, religions, gift-giving, and significant holidays. She was also the catalyst for idea of using “banners” to display the Bridge Builders Pledge of Mutual Respect by marchers in the July 4th and other parades. Growing with the Bridge Builders communities, both Sister Cities and Welcoming Cities have become part of the cultural fabric of Anchorage.
Bridge Builders also hosts an annual Unity Gala, which introduces many neighbors in our city and honors individuals who are nominated by members of their community as thanks for their leadership and service. Rick Mystrom, Cindy and Malcolm Roberts have been honored at the Unity Gala for originating the Bridge Builders initiative and for their continued, active support.
The Roberts worked tirelessly to share the lessons learned in Alaska with the governments in Africa. They shared the story of the Commons as well as the requirement for transparency in dealing with multinational corporations in the development of natural resources. They share Alaska’s experience with a Sovereign Wealth Fund like the Alaska Permanent Fund.
The Roberts wrote, Magic Moments: Battles Worth Fighting and Joys Worth Celebrating: An Alaskan Memoir, published in 2016. They describe Alaskans they worked with and the challenges and opportunities they have encountered through the years. The book also contains an excellent index to track Alaskan history and the people involved.
Cindy Roberts is a strong role model for her children – Cheyenne, Bret, and Alexis. Roberts participated as a parent activist for ten years at West High School from 1995-2010 supporting athletic teams and events, stage shows and drama competitions, and working with students in career exploration. They are all adults now, who demonstrably give back to their communities.
In addition to their three children, the Roberts also raised four “Honorary Adoptees”, who lived with them for some time in their young lives and are linked as family forever. They are: Keema Waterfield, Kevin Rogers, Lena Petrova and Mead Treadwell. Mead was an honorary member of the family when, as a young man, he was welcomed into the household during a 1974 summer internship with former Governor Wally Hickel. Treadwell commented that what he got from the experience was “a lifelong friend and an appreciation for Cindy’s unlimited enthusiasm for convening people, building bridges, and seeing the humor and lessons in tough times. Cindy has always rolled up her sleeves to make this a better place and to make public service a force in Alaska.”
Materials about Bridge Builders of Anchorage
A 501c3 tax-deductible non-profit organization
To promote and celebrate harmony and respect among all cultures
Dignity/respect; personal trust/openness; personal commitment/activism
To make Anchorage the first city without prejudice as the first step to eliminate racism in Alaska.
Strategic Direction—Long Term
To replicate Bridge Builders in other Alaska communities, the US, and internationally
The Bridge Builders “Pledge of Mutual Respect” is well known and a worthy practice for all.
“We the people of Anchorage, Alaska pledge to respect one another, celebrating the differences that make us unique, our customs, our spiritual beliefs, cultures, colors, dreams, and ancestral traditions. Standing together, hand in hand, young and old, we affirm that through mutual respect, we can build a stronger, more harmonious community, a more unified nation, and a better, safer world.”
*Roberts’ “Next Generation”: Cheyenne Roberts Hallie, Bret McKinley Roberts and Alexis Roberts Keiner
*Roberts’ “Honorary Adoptees”: Mead Treadwell, Kevin Rogers, Keema Waterfield McKinney, and Lena Petrova Massey
*Searchers Press, publishers of Magic Moments: Battles Worth Fighting and Joys Worth Celebrating: An Alaskan Memoir
*Cracking the Code: A Citizen’s Guide to the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline Discussion
*Mead Treadwell, former Lt. Governor of Alaska and a longtime friend
*The Anchorage Daily News; Charles Wohlforth, March 4, 2018
*Alaska Business Monthly
*The Bartlett Democratic Club
*Judy Brady, who was Commonwealth North’s first woman President
*Michelle Anderson, President of the Ahtna Native Corporation, close friend and co-worker at the Denali Commission
*Barbara Gazaway, colleague who worked with Cindy to elect quality people to the Alaska Legislature and works with her to find speakers for the Bartlett Club