Mary Agnes (M.A.) Roberts: A Remembrance
When Mary Agnes Roberts (fondly known as M.A.), passed away on March 18, 2019, she left behind a rich history representing 60 years of dedication, involvement and love for the Great Falls Symphony and the arts in the state of Montana, and beyond.
In 1959, M.A. was a driving force behind the establishment of the Great Falls Symphony. From then until her death at 97 years of age, she was a musician, advocate, fundraiser, benefactor, board member and staunch supporter of symphonies and the arts on a local, state and national level. In the late 1970s M.A. had a dream that the Great Falls Symphony would become home to a professional string quartet whose members could serve not only as principal string players in the orchestra, but be involved in the community and state as private teachers and provide education and outreach to Montana’s rural communities.
Encouraged by her vision, the board of directors hired the first professional string quartet in 1979. From 1979 until 1986 she served as the volunteer manager of the quartet, traveling thousands of miles with the ensemble to bring them to rural communities across the state. On a state-wide level, M.A. was again instrumental in 1981 in the establishment of the Montana Association of Symphony Orchestras, a statewide consortium represented by the seven major symphony organizations in Montana.
She served two terms as president, and received the organization’s Outstanding Volunteer of the Year award in 2000.
In 1991, she was recognized and awarded the Montana Governor’s Award for Statewide Service to the Arts. As a result of her impact on symphonic music, M.A. was invited, and served two years on the national board of directors of the League of American Orchestras.
In the early 1990s M.A. took on the demanding challenge to establish and fund a GFSA Endowment. She was chair of the Endowment Committee for a number of years, and during her tenure, over $1 million was raised for the organization.
In 2004, M.A. again had a dream, and was unrelenting in her determination to bring world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma to Great Falls as part of a celebration of the Cascade String Quartet’s 25th anniversary. As a result of her efforts, Yo-Yo Ma became the first of a number of internationally known artists, including Itzak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Midori and others, who came to Great Falls in the ensuing years to perform.
M.A. was a performing member of the Great Falls Symphony Orchestra for 50 years. Earning a music education degree from Northwestern University, she was originally trained as a violinist, but studied both viola and cello in later years, in order to move into those sections as the orchestra needed players.
The Great Falls Symphony has established a memorial fund in honor of M.A. Roberts. Anyone who would like to honor her vision and belief in the importance of the arts may call the Great Falls Symphony at 406-453-4102.
– Carolyn Valacich (retired executive director of the Great Falls Symphony)