Camilla Roberson, social justice attorney, dies

Camilla Roberson, an attorney at the Public Justice Center who spent five years working with orphans in Honduras before launching a law career in social justice advocacy, died of stage-four breast cancer at her parents’ home in Overlea on Oct. 26.

The Towson resident was 43.

Recalled by family and friends as a tireless civil rights lawyer and fiercely loyal friend with a magnetic personality, Mrs. Roberson loved to travel and dance the salsa.

Her loved ones were surprised by “Cammy” studying law — but not at all by her pursuit of a career in which she turned down opportunities for high-paying jobs to devote herself instead to helping others.

“We would have thought she’d be in the Peace Corps,” said her mother, Cassandra Roberson, 73, of Overlea. “It goes to show you that God has a hand in the direction of your choices.”

Camilla Louisa Roberson was born Jan. 19, 1974, in Baltimore to Cassandra Monica Gray, a middle school teacher at Notre Dame Preparatory School, and Timothy Douglas Roberson, deputy associate commissioner at the Social Security Administration’s Office of Public Affairs.

She graduated from Bryn Mawr School in 1991 and the University of Virginia in 1995.

Before enrolling at Columbia Law School, she spent five years working at Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, a home for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras. The experience stoked her interests in travel and charity work.

She met Hasani Claxton in their first year at Columbia and the two were married in Jamaica, where his mother was raised, in 2003.

The couple lived in Manhattan, N.Y., after law school, where she completed a fellowship with the Safe Families Project at the Legal Aid Society, representing young witnesses of domestic violence in child protection cases.

They then moved to San Francisco in 2005, where she worked as a litigation associate at a civil rights firm.

Mrs. Roberson loved to travel and visited Japan, Cuba and the Soviet Union, her husband said. She didn’t allow her cancer diagnosis to keep her from planning a trip to Paris.

When her husband told her he wanted to change careers and study at the San Francisco Academy of Art University, she was supportive, he said.

“She saw how miserable I was as a lawyer,” Mr. Claxton said. “She said, ‘Go for it.’ In my art career, she was always my biggest fan.”

In 2010 they moved back to Baltimore, where she took on a role at the Public Justice Center focusing on health rights and juvenile justice.

She worked on cases that eliminated a long Medicaid backlog; required dental and health care providers to arrange for interpreters for deaf clients; ensured language barriers were not preventing people from receiving government services; and sued corporations for wage theft, said John Nethercut, the center’s executive director.

“Camilla was just an amazing attorney,” Mr. Nethercut said. “She was upbeat, friendly, able to work with lots of different people. She was in charge of bringing a lot of people together to work on justice problems in Maryland.

She and Mr. Claxton had two daughters, Shahira Cassandra, 10, and Ananda Jacqueline, 7, with whom she loved to dance the salsa and go out to new restaurants, friends and family said.

Mr. Claxon praised his wife’s parenting skills, which he attributed to her selflessness, which extended even to her illness.

“She was always putting other people first,” he said. “Even the day before she died, when she was in pretty bad shape, I was having a breakdown and she was more concerned with somebody getting me a box of tissues than with her own pain.”

Mrs. Roberson made friends easily and kept them close, some of them for decades. Brenna McDonald McGann, 43, a grade school friend who now lives in Indianapolis, said friends, colleagues and others who knew her are pouring out messages of support on social media, she said.

“Everybody’s saying the same thing: We need more people like her in the world, not less,” Mrs. McGann said.

“She was the best listener,” added her sister Nicole Roberson Morrison, 42, of Washington. “You could depend on her, and you knew that. She gave great advice and loved really hard.”

Timothy Roberson called his daughter “a quiet, unassuming leader” and noted that she played piano and created a peer counseling group at her high school that still exists.

Jill Berry, a high school friend who helped take care of Mrs. Roberson and her children toward the end of her life, said her friend passed her best qualities on to the children.

“They have her smile,” she said. “They light up a room. They make your day when you are around them. That’s how she was.”

Viewings are scheduled for 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Mitchell Wiedefeld Funeral Home. A service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Pius X Church at 6428 York Road.

In addition to her husband, daughters, parents and sister, Mrs. Roberson is survived by a brother, Christopher Roberson, 47, of Patterson Park, and another sister, Maria Roberson, 46, of Brooklyn, N.Y.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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