We lost Roberta

Norbert Lieckfeldt | 27.05.2015

Another sunny day, another email with terrible news.

Roberta Williams. Lovely Berta. She of the wonderful laughter. She with the solutions and the "we'll sort something out". She with her insatiable curiosity about stammering, and her drive to share her enthusiasm with her students. She with the great love of working with, and for, her students.

Whenever BSA had the opportunity to organise an interesting lecture with one of the Big Research Names, I'd come to her and Berta would say 'we'll sort it out'. "But only", she'd say, "if my students can come for free!" :-)

When I needed a piece of work evaluated, I'd go to her and she'd again say "don't worry, we'll sort it out - I've got this student who could do with earning a bit of money and I'll supervise it (for free)". She'd ask us to come to her Expert Days, when her students met people with speech, language and communication needs. We were, after all, the experts in our conditions.

She's been training speech and language therapists at London's City University for over 30 years. As Associate Dean for Student Experience she could translate her love for her students into real action. One of her former students writes

I hear Roberta’s voice and see her face as I write this and I just wanted to say how much of an inspiration and support she has been to me over the years.  She was my tutor at university and I have known her for 15 years.  She lives on through my work and I will have her in my heart.

When she retired in December, she said "give me a few months to have a good rest, and I'll come and do some work for the BSA, I really want to get involved now". This was followed by an email saying "Well, I didn't really bank on being called for jury service", followed by another telling me of her sudden illness but, as always with Berta, looking forward, making plans.

Berta wasn't one of the Big Research Names, not one who attracted huge research grants. Berta was someone far more important. She was a patient builder, and someone who spent decades laying solid foundations - someone without whom none of the work in stammering, and for adults and children who stammer, could exist.

At her retirement part in December I said what I find remarkable about her is how much her love for her work, her field, her students shone through in everything she did and said - it was really quite remarkable and I'd be hard put to think of anyone else to whom this would apply. And this love was infectious - it would have been difficult and really hard work not to like her.

Our thoughts at BSA are with her husband Martin and her children who must be reeling from this.  A young man who once attended City University's summer school for children who stammer wrote to me when he heard the news saying "I had the best time of my life there meeting people that stammer and making friends for life". Her legacy is assured. 

Norbert Lieckfeldt
May 2015