Tribute to Roberta (Robbie) Park: Exemplary Physical Educator and Sport Historian

Roberta J. Park, or Robbie as she was known by her close friends and colleagues, was a lifelong proponent of physical education. In addition to being a renowned physical educator she was a passionate scholar in the field of sport history with a specialty in the history of health, exercise, and physical education in the 18th and 19th centuries. She edited a number of seminal books and monographs as well as many chapters in books and monographs. She published more than one hundred articles in virtually all of the important journals in the field of physical education and kinesiology.

Roberta Park, 07/15/1931 – 12/05/18

Robberta delivered lectures and research presentations in all parts of the world, often as keynote speaker or in an honor address. Her research output is truly outstanding and her extensive work on embodiment, sport, health and physical practices in historical context is widely admired. One of her most important contributions to the field was a substantive review article entitled “A Decade of the Body: Researching and Writing about the History of Health, Fitness, Exercise and Sport, 1983-1993” published in the Journal of Sport History in 1994.

Invited lecture at Sung Kyun Kwan University, Korea, 1985

Roberta was a fellow of the American Academy of Kinesiology and Physical education (inducted 1979), serving as President of that organization (1990-91); fellow of the British Society for Sports History; Vice President of the International Association for the History of Sport and Physical Education (1989); President of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education; and Vice-President of the International Association for the History of Sport and Physical Education. She was on the editorial boards of numerous journals including the Journal of Sport History, International Journal for the History of Sport and Physical Education, and the Journal of Physical Education and Recreation. She held editorial positions for Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, Quest and The Association for the Anthropological Study of Play. 

Roberta was also the recipient of countless awards recognizing her outstanding and extensive contribution to the field. Among the awards she received are the D. B. Dill Historical Lecture, American College of Sports Medicine; The Reet Howell Memorial Address, Australian Society for Sport History; the Distinguished Scholar Award, National Association for Physical Education in Higher Education; the Alliance Scholar, American Alliance for Health and Physical Education; International Sport History Scholar Award; and Seward Staley Address, North American Society for Sport History.

Roberta Park exchanging pre-game greetings with captain of team from HMS Kent, 1965

Roberta J. Park was born on July 15, 1931 in Oakland, California, the daughter of Robert Donald and Grace E. (Faulkes) Park. She earned an AB degree from the University of California, Berkeley (1953); a Master of Arts from The Ohio State University (1955); and Doctor of Philosophy from the University of California (1970). She was an Instructor at The Ohio State University from 1955-1956; a teacher in the Oakland (California) Public Schools, 1956-1959; and a supervisor and then professor, at the University of California, Berkeley, 1959-1994. From 1982-1992, she was Chair of the Department of Physical Education, which then became the Department of Human Biodynamics in (1995), merging in 1997 with the Department of Integrative Biology. 

During her retirement, Dr. Park never wavered from her strong stance on the importance of exercise and sports for children and everyone else. She came to her campus office every day, swam in Hearst pool at noon, and spent the afternoon with her research. She was a force of nature, never missing an opportunity to educate anyone willing to listen to the attributes of staying active and the many benefits to the mind and society as a whole. The Department of Physical Education, UC Berkeley is greatly appreciative of the Robbie’s lifelong effort to return to its rightful place as vital to the success of Berkeley students and of humans in general.

In addition to her physical activity interests, Robbie enjoyed the Opera, was an oil painter, was an avid reader of non-fiction, history and biographies and traveled widely throughout the world. Besides being a remarkable scholar, Robbie was a generous and solid mentor, a wonderful friend, loving mother and grandmother, and a wonderful human being. May her soul rest in peace, in love and Light.

(Adapted from an obituary written by Claudia Guedes, Susan Zieff and Susanna Li-Jue)


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1 Comment
  1. A wonderful tribute to Professor Park…. THANKS for sharing this with current professionals in physical education!

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