Steve Roberts Obituary

Steve  Roberts
Steve Roberts

April 12, 1939 - November 7, 2020
Born in Des Moines, Iowa
Resided in Des Moines, Iowa
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Steve Roberts passed away Saturday, Nov 7th at home with his wife of 55 years, Dawn. Steve had his share of health issues over the years but didn’t let that stop him from living life to the fullest.

Steve was born April 12, 1939 to Thomas B. and Jane W. Roberts. He graduated from Greenwood School in 1951; Roosevelt Jr. High School in 1954; Roosevelt Sr. High School in 1957 in Des Moines; Princeton University in 1961; and Michigan Law School in 1964. Although he didn’t get into Harvard where his father went, Michigan turned out to be not so bad since that is where he met Dawn. After college, Dawn spent a year teaching in Venezuela and he spent a year clerking for the Honorable Harvey M. Johnson, Chief Judge of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The couple should have learned something when she went to Venezuela and he went to Omaha and they were both happy with their choices! They went on to get married on August 14, 1965.

Steve practiced law with the Davis Brown Law Firm for nearly 51 ½ years, retiring as Counsel Emeritus on November 31, 2016. He specialized in Business Law and State Tax (Corporate and Sales and Use in particular), but he also was involved in public law, administrative law, estate planning probate and family law. As he liked to say, "He was a jack of all trades and master of none.” Later in life he served as one of Davis Brown's Lobbyists at the State Capitol with long-time friend Dick Thornton.

Steve is probably best known for his political work for the Republican Party. He was State Chairman from 1977-1981 during which time the Republicans took back both houses of the legislature, elected two Republican Senators and a congressman, and carried the State for Ronald Reagan. Based on that track record, the State's Central Committee replaced him in January of 1981, but he returned as Republican National Committeeman in 1988 and served for 20 years. During that time Iowa kept its first in the nation caucus status. Paradoxically, Steve never ran for public office, although he came close in 1972 for State Representative, for State senator in 1974, Lieutenant Governor in 1980 and Congress in 1982. He was also mentioned as a possible candidate for Governor in 1982. His wife, Dawn, said she became so frustrated with his failure to run that she ran herself in 1986 for Secretary of State. She lost a very close race that was not decided until 7 o'clock in the morning. Late in his political life, Steve was appointed to the Advisory Council for the Harkin Institute. After spending 38 years unsuccessfully campaigning against Tom Harkin, he decided he might as well join him. Like the story of Moby Dick, Steve described his relationship with Harkin as Captain Ahab trying to catch the Great White Whale. Tom Harkin was kind enough to come to Dawn and Steve's 50th wedding anniversary in 2015. Another honor came as Steve was recognized by DSM Magazines’ Sages Over 70 Award in 2017.

In addition to politics, Steve spent 25 years as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society, Iowa Division, Inc., including being chair of the Board for several years; the Y-Camp Board and as a former leader and staffer for the Day Camp Program in Des Moines; the Boy Scouts of America, where he served on the Mid-Iowa Council Board and President, as well as receiving the Adult Eagle Scout Award and the Order of the Silver Beaver. Steve had numerous other boardships including the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, Iowa Taxpayers Association, United State Education of Appeal Board, Princeton University Annual Giving and Committee to Nominate Alumni Trustees; and was a member of the Polk County, Iowa State Bar Associations and the American Bar Association. To say church played a big role in Steve's life is an understatement. On occasion he was known to remark that he had considered becoming a minister himself but he thought he could not morally be good enough to do so. But when he served as moderator of the Des Moines Presbytery he discovered morality was not a prerequisite to being in the ministry!

Joining Central Presbyterian Church at the age of 10 in 1949, he was active in that church in a variety of capacities including serving as a deacon (moderator of the deacon board), elder and Sunday school teacher. In addition, he not only went to Central on a regular basis, but for several years would triple-dip: St. Paul's Episcopal Church early service, Westminster Presbyterian Church's 8:45a service and concluded with the 10:15a service at Central. Steve was also interested in churches outside of Des Moines. Notably, Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, Broad Street Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio (church for his maternal grandmother and uncle), and some of the big churches in New York City.

In all of his educational experiences Steve was particularly proud of being a graduate of Princeton University. He quoted a Harvard graduate who once said, "He did not understand the Princeton Alumni school song "Going back to Old Nassau Hall" because most of them had never left it." He served on the Committee to Nominate Trustees and was President of the Princeton Club of Iowa for many years. He was Chairman of the 50th Reunion and Annual Giving Committee for his Class.

Although Steve had no musical talent, (he played the drums in high school and college), he counted it as a blessing. Steve had the privilege of growing up in the end of the big band era, the start of rock-n-roll and the era of classic country music. He always said he would have liked to have been a musical entertainer, not necessarily the star of the show, but just a person who played back up steel guitar, electric guitar, or perhaps a big named disk jockey. He said his lack of musical talent was one of the reasons he went into politics because it was the closest he could get to emulating the travels of the big bands of classic rock and country music shows. During his life, Steve took every opportunity to see every big band from Lawrence Welk to Guy Lombardo, Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, and his favorites, Les Brown and Bob Hope. He attended the Grand Ole Opry shows at the KRNT Theater put on by Smokey Smith and heard all of the country greats of that era (with the exception of Hank Williams, Sr.), although he did get to know two of the original Drifting Cowboys, Don Adams, and Jerry Rivers. Steve loved to go dancing and he and Dawn were familiar figures on the floor of the Val Air Ballroom, Wakonda Club, and any other places where he could find the opportunity to dance. Although Dawn said she discovered Steve was more interested in trying to watch the band on the stage than dancing with her. It should be noted that Steve also led a one-person crusade to have singable hymns at church and used to grade the ministers on selection of what he terms "good hymns" and "bad hymns.” But due to his far from perfect pitch, his children often paid him not to sing.

It took a while but Steve finally recognized that family was most important and he had a spectacular family of which to be proud. Dawn's successfully raising their children almost single-handedly because of Steve's busy law practice and political activities and Dawn went on to have a successful fundraising career. Their eldest son, JB, took care of the family and has had a thriving career as a Talent Manager and TV production owner in Los Angeles; Justin is a three-time Grammy Nominated Children's Musician and Author, who plays all over the country, much like Steve would have loved to have done. And finally Staci, who has made her own way in Hollywood is an associate producer for film and tv, an actor, and is the family spokesperson. Steve has always said, "He and Dawn may not have had a quantity of grandchildren, but there certainly is quality with their three grandchildren Grayson, Freida and Eli.” Steve is also very proud of his children's choices of partners in marriage. Wendy being a steady influence on JB and excellent mate, Steele who is always there for a fiery political discussion, and Anna, an accomplished classical musician and a wonderful balance for Justin.

Finally, this would not be complete without mention of Steve's brother, Charles, and sister, Jane. Both fascinating personalities in their own right and who cared so much that they always kept things interesting. Charles is the most brilliant in the family and Jane is the most entertaining and colorful. Even though their relationships could be challenging, Steve loved them very much.

In conclusion, Steve remarked later in life that in spite of the numerous health problems (Parkinson's for nearly 25 years and beating cancer twice) and the general problems of growing old, he had few regrets and was much happier in his later years than he had been in his 20's. People often said that he should write a book. But Steve said he could write three books: one on politics, one on religion, and one on the relatives. The only thing is he said he would probably need to wait until some of them have passed on.

Steve was also a strong feminist. When his teenage daughter and her brothers argued that she should not be prohibited from doing certain things that her brothers did, he had to agree. Steve had other interests including reading (particularly history and political science), golf which he was terrible at (but his son, JB, turned out to be a great golfer), swimming, bicycling, and being with people. Lastly, he loved Jim and Barb Ledinsky and all of Dawn's family, as well as his many friends and co-workers who made his life special.

After a long delay due to covid, his memorial service will take place on Tuesday, April 12th, 2022 at 1:30pm at Central Presbyterian Church, 3929 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312. A reception will follow at the Wakonda Club.

For those unable to attend in person, please request a virtual link by emailing

In lieu of flowers, hug your loved ones, snack on some cheese and triscuits and listen to some Hank Williams.




Memorial Service
Central Presbyterian Church
3829 Grand Avenue
Des Moines, IA US 50312
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
1:30 PM
Wakonda Club
3915 Fleur Drive
Des Moines, IA USA 50321
Tuesday, April 12, 2022
3:00 PM