Philanthropist Suzanne F. Roberts Dies at 98

Suzanne Roberts outside the theater that bears her name
Suzanne Roberts outside the theater that bears her name (Courtesy of Philadelphia Theatre Co.)

Suzanne F. Roberts, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent civic icons, died at her Center City home on April 20 of natural causes. She was 98.

“Suzanne was a remarkable mother, grandmother and great-grandmother whose energy, spirit, humor, kindness and determination were admired by all who knew her,” the Roberts family said in a statement. “She had an amazing and inspirational life filled with friends and family and so much purpose. The life she shared with her husband Ralph for 72 years was extraordinary. Together, they followed their dreams and gave back to their beloved community by helping so many. Besides Ralph and their extended family, the arts were Suzanne’s greatest passion.

“An actress herself, she devoted much of her life to supporting the theater and the performing arts and we are incredibly proud of the profound and lasting impact she had on people and organizations across the region both through her philanthropy and her show, ‘Seeking Solutions,’ Suzanne lived a wonderful, long life full of love and adventure. We will miss her greatly.”

Roberts, a Philadelphia native, was the daughter of Alfred W. Fleisher, co-founder of the real estate firm Mastbaum Bros. & Fleisher and a philanthropist, one who gave special attention to Jewish causes and prison reform. Fleisher died when his daughter was just 7 and his wife remarried. Roberts was raised in Elkins Park, attending Oak Lane Country Day School in Cheltenham Township and then Harcum Junior College in Bryn Mawr. After completing her education, Roberts began her lifelong career as an actress, studying the Stanislavski Method of acting at the Tamara Daykarhanova School of the Stage.

She met her husband, Ralph J. Roberts, when he was 20 and she was 19. They were married soon after meeting, a courtship recapped in The Philadelphia Inquirer back in 2013.

“Ralph has always had an impeccable reputation for sincerity and honesty. And he’s a very modest person,” Suzanne Roberts said at the time. “I never ever met anybody who doesn’t like him.”

Ralph Roberts was the founder of the Comcast Corp., the national cable and media behemoth based in Philadelphia. He died in 2015, and his son, Brian Roberts, is the CEO.

For decades, Roberts left her fingerprints all over Philadelphia’s cultural life. Besides her career as a stage actress, she also worked as a voice actress and television presenter (the world’s “Oldest Talk Show Host,” according to the Guinness Book of World Records). Roberts wrote a well-regarded book called “The Candidate and Television” back in 1952.

She appeared on stage in Philadelphia and on Broadway, playing Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth” and Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew.” The latter, she told Philadelphia Magazine back in 2012, was her very favorite role.

The Suzanne Roberts Cultural Development Fund, a division of the Suzanne and Ralph Roberts Foundation, supported performing arts organizations in the region and, in 2007, the Philadelphia Theatre Co. named its new theater after her.

“Suzanne’s astonishing vivacity will be sorely missed as we say goodbye to one of the greatest supporters of the arts in our community,” Paige Price, the theater’s producing artistic director, said in a statement.

“What was unique about Suzanne,” said David L. Cohen, the senior executive vice president of Comcast and the chair of the board of trustees of the Philadelphia Theatre Co., “was the passion and commitment that she brought to the causes that she championed.” He held special praise for her dedication to young, struggling theaters and performers.

Cohen worked with Roberts on her eponymous television program, “Seeking Solutions with Suzanne Roberts.” The show featured Roberts speaking directly to seniors about the ways in which life could still be rich and exciting for them, along with helpful tips and tricks. She filmed more than 2,000 segments for the show between 2000 and 2019, and won numerous awards for her work covering everything from belly dancing to riding a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

“She had an instinct and a knack about how to produce content and how to talk to a senior audience, and it’s not just because she was senior,” Cohen said.

Aside from her support for the arts, Roberts found many other ways to use her wealth and power for good. She became a part-time therapist at the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center in Philadelphia, and worked with children at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children, too.

At 58, she earned a bachelor’s degree in counseling from Antioch University, followed by a master’s degree in special education and counseling from the same school two years later. She lent her time to veterans’ affairs, HIV/AIDS education, workplace safety, addiction treatment and counseling, and race relations.

Roberts is survived by four of her five children and their spouses: Catherine R. Clifton and Anthony A. Clifton, Lisa S. Roberts and David Seltzer, Ralph J. Roberts Jr., Brian L. Roberts and Aileen K. Roberts, and Diane Roberts, widow of Ralph and Suzanne’s son Douglas, who died in 2011. She is also survived by eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.; 215-832-0740


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