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Jeweler loved sharing customers' milestones

| Sunday, July 6, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
William Drake Roberts, formerly of Sewickley, passed away Wednesday, June 25, 2014.

Noted jeweler William Roberts could always draw out the shyest person in a social gathering by breaking the ice with a conversation about a piece of jewelry the person was wearing, his daughter said.

“He would get them talking and find out the most amazing things about them, put them at ease and introduce them,” said his daughter Caroline Wentling of Point Breeze.

William Drake Roberts, formerly of Sewickley, died on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, in Longwood at Oakmont, while battling the effects of a stroke and Alzheimer's disease. He was 83.

The son of the late John M. Roberts III and Arminta Kapphan, Mr. Roberts was born prematurely, his family said, and since he was small, he learned to box to gain confidence.

Called “the Gentleman Boxer” because of his manners and disposition, Wentling said, Mr. Roberts won three consecutive Golden Glove championships, beginning in 1946.

“It never made sense to me,” Wentling said of her father's boxing career. “Knowing his personality type, it just didn't fit. He was easy going; he loved people. He was always very kind.”

By 1955, Mr. Roberts joined the John M. Roberts and Son Co. family jewelry store, founded Downtown in 1832 and having several locations throughout the region. The business operated for 165 years before closing in 1997.

“He loved it. He was involved in engagements, celebrations, anniversaries, Christmas gifts, graduations, all the big moments in a person's life,” Wentling said. “A young man's first watch, a little girl's first locket or charm bracelet.”

Another deep passion for Mr. Roberts was classic cars, his family said. He was a member of the group that founded the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix, and was well known for driving a 1920 bright yellow Mercer through Sewickley, where he lived, and in parades.

Mr. Roberts helped friend G. Whitney Snyder establish the Pittsburgh Transportation Museum, which began in Station Square, and eventually moved to the Frick Art and Historical Center's Car and Carriage Museum in Point Breeze. Mr. Roberts was a docent there until December.

In addition to his daughter, Caroline Wentling, Mr. Roberts is survived by: a son, W. Drake Roberts Jr. of Beechview, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Caroline P. Moody; brothers John M. Roberts IV and Charles B. Roberts. A service will be conducted 1:30 p.m. Friday in the chapel of Longwood at Oakmont. A memorial celebration will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday in Sewickley Presbyterian Church, 414 Grant St., with a reception following in the church's Robinson Room. Arrangements are being handled by the John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc. funeral home in Shadyside.

Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or bvidonic@tribweb.com.

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