RICHFIELD SPRINGS – Barbara Atwell Roberts, 87, formerly of Richfield Springs and a retired operating room nurse at Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, died Feb. 21, 2019, of heart failure at Concord Hospital in Concord, N.H.
She lived at Havenwood Heritage Heights in Concord for the past nine years.
Raised in the Baptist church, Barb’s unshakable faith guided and strengthened her throughout her life, in happy times and sad times. She lost her son at age 10 and survived domestic abuse. “Let your life speak,” say the Quakers, and Barb did so, with her gentle and forgiving nature, optimism, generosity, and most of all, loving kindness. She walked “cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”
Barb made friends everywhere she went and made it a point to keep in touch with all of them. She loved to travel, collected postage stamps and maps, rooted for the Red Sox and Patriots and sent greeting cards for every occasion.
Born May 9, 1931, in Syracuse, Barbara Joan Atwell was the younger daughter of Harold Leon Atwell and Grace Jones Atwell.
Raised in Syracuse, Barbara graduated from Nottingham High School in 1948. She was one of two in her class to receive a scholarship to attend Syracuse University School of Nursing, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in December 1952.
From January 1953 until her marriage to Robert Kemp Jr. on March 30, 1957, Barb worked as a registered nurse at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York City. In 1961 they moved to Miami, Fla. While raising their two children, she also was a nurse at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami Baptist Hospital and Coral Gables Hospital. In July 1973, their marriage ended and she moved to the Cooperstown area.
For the next 20 years she was employed at Bassett Hospital. Barb was grateful to have meaningful work, helping people. A very detail-oriented person, she enjoyed selecting instruments according to each surgeon’s preferences. Her hands were typically dry and cracking from surgical scrubbing, and she became a steady user of Bag Balm. After rising before the sun for 40 years, she retired from nursing in November 1993.
She married John L. Willsey, a native of the Town of Springfield, on Nov. 1, 1975. With the help of his son, John C. Willsey, they built a log cabin on Willsey Road in Richfield Springs. During 21 years together, they enjoyed driving John’s teams of horses, gathering with the extended Willsey family and friends, and traveling. John was a World War II veteran and former POW, and they attended annual reunions of the Army 12th Armored Division. He died on Oct. 26, 1996.
Barb met her third life partner, Edward H. Roberts, at a 12th Armored reunion. Although he and John had served in the same division, they had not known each other. On Jan. 8, 2000, Barb and Ed married at the First Presbyterian Church in Cooperstown, and began 16 full and happy years together. They resided on Mountain View Lake in Sunapee, N.H., and in 2009 moved to Havenwood. Ed died July 5, 2016.
While in the Cooperstown area, Barb was an active member of the First Presbyterian Church in Cooperstown, where she served as an elder and enjoyed worshiping and singing in the choir. She was a member of the Glimmerglass Opera Guild and served as an usher during performances for many years. She also volunteered at Bassett Hospital and with the Home Extension Group.
In Sunapee, Ed’s extended family lovingly welcomed Barbara into the fold. Barb and Ed led an active life involving volunteering with the Red Cross and Sunapee Seniors, the Church of the Epiphany in Newport, snowmobile club, boating and fishing, travel and summer visits to the lakeside with family and friends. After they moved to Havenwood, Barb enjoyed singing in the Tapestry and HHH groups and took newcomers to assisted living under her wing.
Barbara is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Karen Barbara Kemp and Jeffrey W. Zimmer of Durham, N.C.; two grandchildren, Helen Caitlin Zimmer of Philadelphia, and Ian Karl Zimmer of Charlotte, N.C.; niece, Linda (Fred) Heberling of Holland, Ohio, whom she considered a second daughter; and nephew, Clifford (Marilyn) Weigel of Stryker, Ohio; two grandnephews in Ohio; step-children, Elizabeth (Gregory) Stevens of Chester, N.H., Ying Xia of Concord, N.H. and Jean (Greg) Zeller and John C. Willsey of Richfield Springs and their children; step-grandchildren, Kari Ure and Ty Cook; step-nieces and step-nephews, including Elaine and Michael Gibbons of Quincy, Massachusetts; many cousins, including the extended family of Marion Karl and the late William Karl of Cooperstown; and step-great-grandchildren, and step-great-great-grandchildren.
In addition to her husbands, Barb was predeceased by her son, Carl Robert Kemp, who died Feb. 9, 1969, after being struck by a car, and sister, Jean A. Weigel, who died in 2008.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m., March 29, at Havenwood Heritage Heights in Concord.
Details on a service in Celebration of the Life of Barbara A. Roberts at the First Presbyterian Church of Cooperstown will be announced at a later date.
Barbara will be laid to rest in the Adirondacks alongside her son and her parents, in the Minerva Baptist Church Cemetery.
Memorial donations may be made to a charity Barb supported, including The Nature Conservancy, Doctors Without Borders, American Heart Association, Smithsonian Institution, American Red Cross, and Glimmerglass Opera Festival in Cooperstown.
Arrangements are under the care of the Connell, Dow & Deysenroth Funeral Home in Cooperstown.