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Roberta Cooke Gibson

1924 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
Roberta Cooke Gibson Obituary
MERIDEN - Roberta Cooke Gibson's earthly work was completed on Tuesday, May 23, 2017, when she joined her God in heaven after a brief illness. In her 92 years, Roberta lived an incredible life, full of adventure, highs and lows, touching hearts all over the globe. Truly the most interesting woman anyone ever met, she lived her life according to her deepest beliefs of honesty, integrity, and service to her family and fellows.

Born October 17, 1924, in Hartford, CT, "Bobbie" was the youngest of the five children of Edward Emmett Cooke and Honora Agnes McGuire. Roberta was one of the 4 "Cooke girls", known for their great legs, good looks, prowess in target shooting, and all-around academic and athletic achievement.

Roberta graduated from Lincoln High School in Meriden in 1942 and in 1944 from the Meriden Nursing School. For Roberta, nursing was not simply a career but an avocation- the way she viewed the world and her role in it. She worked as an RN at Meriden Hospital, then the OR at Yale-New Haven Hospital where she was legendary for walking out of an operation in protest of a surgeon's poor treatment of nurses. She was a Neurosurgery and General Surgery nurse at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in NY, then worked for three years in Santa Barbara, CA after the war as an OR nurse. Roberta was one of the founding members of the Santa Barbara NAACP, working for civil rights in the early 1950's.

Returning east to Columbia Presbyterian, she worked in the Medical Center's Neurological Institute as a Night Supervisor before being called back to her hometown, Meriden, to assist with taking care of a family member during which she worked as an OR Recovery Room Supervisor at Meriden Hospital. Never one to let grass grow under her feet) Roberta moved to Washington, DC, where she worked at DC General Hospital in Neurological/Neurosurgical Service. While working at DC General, she attended Catholic University, often sleeping in her car between classes and shifts. After graduating from Catholic University with a BSN, Roberta worked as a Charge Nurse at the NIH in Maryland at the National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness and Neurology/Neurosurgery.

While working in the magic air of Washington in the Camelot years, Roberta's true calling crystallized when she volunteered for the Peace Corps in its second year of operation in its first Urban Peace Corps Group in 1965. Leaving behind marriage proposals from doctors and politicians, she instead elected to train as a volunteer in the Corps and then became a visiting nurse in the LaVictoria slums of Santiago, Chile. There she taught basic health care to the poorest of the poor and functioned as a nurse for Peace Corps Volunteers working alongside her. This is where Roberta's gifts for service and selflessness found their greatest need. Her leadership and communications skills were recognized; Roberta became a Staff Member of the Peace Corps Training Center in Arecibo, Puerto Rico and was the Health Educator for Volunteers training to work in Latin America. Additionally, she was on the staff of the Outward-Bound Program. Roberta's contributions to the early years of the Peace Corps were life-changing for her and she maintained her heartfelt connection to the program throughout her life, attending reunions and maintaining the friendships she made there through her correspondence.

While vacationing alone on a bus trip through Chile that she met Ken Gibson. In a tiny bus station outside Arica, they met briefly, recognizing each other as Americans and similar restless souls. Two years and many letters later, they married in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he was then working as a 4th-grade teacher. They had a combination Catholic and Hindu wedding ceremony, with his class serving as the wedding party.

Three children followed, born as Roberta traveled with her husband in her new role as wife and then mother. Arica Maya was born in Kathmandu, Rafiq Patrick ("Pat") was born in Amman, Jordan, and after two years in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, and then following the birth of Dar Ethan was born in Waterville, Maine, USA, the family moved to Tucson, AZ, in 1974 where Roberta worked days as a mother of three small children and nights as Charge Nurse on the Sub-Acute Surgical Floor on the Code Red ER Team. While in Tucson Roberta blithely ran errands on her bicycle with baby Dar strapped into a baby seat behind her.

Roberta then packed up the family to the other side of the globe, where they settled in Saudi Arabia from 1976-1983. A difficult place for most women, Roberta made it an adventure and shrugged off the hardships. Along with attending swim meets every weekend, making Halloween costumes, helping with schoolwork and making lunches, she worked at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital & Research Center in the Neurological and Neurosurgical Unit. She befriended Saudi princesses and Egyptian paupers alike with her humor and caring.

She then returned to the US and settled in Vermont for several years, again following her husband and working nights as a Supervisor at Weston Hadden Convalescent Center in Bennington. Opportunities arose and they found themselves in the idylls of Bonaire, in the Dutch Caribbean, then Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. At each stop she was as always actively involved in the service of helping others, working with the Societies of Crippled and Disabled Children in both countries. Upon their final return to the US and subsequent divorce, Roberta worked as a Hospice nurse in Montpelier, VT and then in Assisted Living and as a Private Duty nurse in Manchester Center, VT. Moving into the Bradley Home in Meriden, CT in 2008, Roberta didn't slow down but continued her love of service and education in attending book clubs, creating exhibits in the library and corresponding with her global community of friends.

In Manchester in the late 1990's and early 2000's, Roberta attended a memoir- writing group that became her second family. Always a gifted letter-writer, she blossomed in this group into a true artist. over time the class treasured her life stories so much that they surprised her by publishing them through the Northshire Bookstore's press, calling it "Stories By Roberta". These haunting vignettes, simply told but exquisite in detail and feeling, illustrate only a few of Roberta's life experiences but reveal a gentle soul and a deep sense of courage and integrity. Roberta's stories are like the woman herself: quietly riveting, keeping herself in the background but always with a powerful message.

She is predeceased by sisters Elizabeth Pelrin Goldenbloome, Dorothy Cooke Reinman and Kathryn Cooke, and by a brother, Jack Cooke. She is survived by her daughter, Arica Maya Hay (Andreas), and sons Patrick and Dar Gibson.

Calling hours will be at the John J. Ferry & Sons Funeral Home, 88 East Main Street, Meriden on Wednesday, May 31st prior to the service from 9 to10:30 am. A funeral mass will be celebrated at St. Joseph's Church at 11 am. Burial will be at the family plot within Sacred Heart Cemetery. A Celebration of Roberta's Life will be held at the Bradley Home, 320 Colony Street in Meriden, on Wednesday May 31st from 12:30-2:30pm. In lieu of flowers, please make contributions to The Smile Train, www.smiletrain.org or 1-800-932-9541.The family extends our deep appreciation to the Bradley Home for their years of care and love for Roberta and to MidState Medical Hospital for outstanding service. For online condolences please visit www.jferryfh.com.
Published in Bennington Banner on May 29, 2017
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