Sad News: Passing of Professor Polly Roberts

Lorna Zukas's picture

The following is being shared for readers who may not have heard. Original obtained from a UCLA Google Group "" group.

It is with great sadness that we forward the news that Professor Polly (Mary Nooter) Roberts died during the night.  Polly was an inspiration to her students, friends, colleagues and all who knew her personally and to many others whose lives she touched through her work as a spokesperson for those living with metastatic breast cancer.


Polly was a professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance, an African Studies Center Advisory Committee member and ASC affiliated faculty, an Editorial Board member for African Arts journal, and Consulting Curator of African Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA); she was past Deputy Director and Chief Curator at the Fowler Museum. 


Most recently, Polly received two major awards for teaching, scholarship, and curatorial work: the Lifetime Leadership Award from the Arts Council of the African Studies Association and the Dai Sensei/Master Teacher Award from the Ethnic Arts Council of Los Angeles.


Polly is survived by her loving family and her husband, Al (Allen) Roberts.  According to Al, Polly passed away last night, peacefully in her sleep.  She had been living with stage four metastatic breast cancer for 8+ years, always with grace, purpose, and giving.  He said that early on she chose to avoid the common "fighter" or "battle" vocabulary, because that suggests that someone eventually loses.  Polly always said that on the contrary, she gained from new ways of seeing the world and finding ways to share and teach from her experiences.


There will not be a service of any sort for the immediate future, and when it's time, there will a celebration of Polly's strong life, most likely on campus.  Al wrote, “Everyone who loved Polly wants to do something to help, and the best thing right now is to have warm memories, offer prayer and kindness, and make the world a better place.  No flowers, food, or whatever please. “


If someone does want to make a small gift to people who can use gifts no matter how small, there is an orphanage and school in Freetown, Sierra Leone, All as One ( that Al mentioned that works with wonderful kids, the Southern Law Poverty Center, and Planned Parenthood.


Polly’s accomplishments are too many to list here; to read more about her work, please visit


We will miss her so much, but what a life she lived!!




Polly wrote about her experiences living with metastatic breast cancer at




Polly with her family.

Categories: Obituary
Keywords: announcement