Alfonso “A.A.” Roberty, a World War II veteran and career educator who later headed Harford County public schools for nearly two decades, died Friday at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air of complications from a broken hip. He was 94.
“I knew him well. We worked together and were good partners,” said Robert Y. Dubel, who headed Baltimore County public schools for 16 years until retiring in 1992. “We were both particularly interested in interscholastic sports and inter-county play. He was a great academician who did much to raise the standards of Harford County public schools.”
Dr. Dubel described him as being “very outgoing and friendly.”
“He was a down-to-earth type of person and a wonderful person to work with,” he said. “He was just a fine fellow.”
Until retiring in 2000, William B. Seccurro had been supervisor of vocational education for Harford County public schools and a longtime friend.
“In my opinion, he was the best superintendent Harford County schools ever had,” Dr. Seccurro said. “He had foresight and vision for growing the school system and launched Harford County into the modern age of education.”
Alfonso Antonio Roberty, son of Michael Roberty, a shoe store owner, and his wife, Erminia Roberty, who worked alongside her husband, was born and raised in Cumberland.
While attending Allegany High School, he worked in his parents’ shoe store and at a local Cumberland printing company, and two months after graduating in 1944 he was drafted into the Army.
After completing basic training at Camp Croft near Spartanburg, South Carolina, he was assigned to the 14th Regiment of the 71st Infantry Division, and boarded the RMS Queen Mary, from which he disembarked in Gorrick, Scotland.
He crossed the English Channel and joined his unit as a replacement soldier in Alsace-Lorraine. He participated in military campaigns across France and through the Siegfried Line, a heavily fortified boundary along Germany’s western border, to cross the Rhine and Danube rivers and on to Germany and Austria.
With Germany’s surrender in 1945, Dr. Roberty was transferred from his unit to the Military Government Unit, which was involved in the occupation of places in Bavaria that included Munich and Würzburg. He was discharged with the rank of staff sergeant in 1946.
His decorations included the Combat Infantryman Badge, the European Theater Operations Medal with two battle stars, U.S. Army Occupation Medal and the Order of Saint Maurice Medal from the National Infantry Association in 2014.
When he was presented the award, his oldest daughter, Paula, said she had no idea of her father’s service.
“The first thing she said was ‘Dad, I didn’t know you did something like that,’” Dr. Roberty told The Baltimore Sun in 2014. He said that after the war, “I just tried to get rid of it. ... I didn’t talk about it. My contribution is no greater, perhaps smaller than thousands of others who were in that division. ... I was shot at and I was watching guys die who were in my company.”
Dr. Roberty earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950 from then-Fairmont State College in West Virginia, and married that same year the former Ruth Trumbo.
He began his teaching career in 1950 as a science and mathematics instructor at Cambridge High School in Dorchester County, and the next year, joined Harford County public schools as a chemistry and physics teacher at Bel Air High School.
“He was my chemistry teacher in high school,” said Todd Holden, a Harford County photographer and retired Aegis reporter. “He was a great teacher. I mean you learned when you were in his class, and you had to learn and if you stayed awake, you couldn’t help but learn. In later life, he was always at our reunions. He was very popular with everyone and he did a remarkable job being superintendent.”
In 1953, he was named director of adult education for Harford County schools, and three years later, joined the central office where he rose to become business manager. He was promoted to assistant superintendent in 1962, and in 1970 to superintendent, a position he retained until retiring in 1988.
Dr. Roberty earned a master’s degree in 1960 from the University of Maryland, College Park and obtained a doctorate in education in 1977 from the George Washington University in Washington, where he had been a member of Phi Delta Kappa professional education fraternity.
After his predecessor, Dr. Charles W. Willis, retired as superintendent, there was a pressing need in the county to build additional classrooms to replace the portable classrooms in use at practically every elementary school, middle school and high school.
He oversaw the completion of the construction of Joppatowne High School and the Harford Vocational Technical High School (now Harford Technical High School). He then planned for the construction of Fallston High School in 1978 and C. Milton Wright High School two years later. He also planned the construction of Edgewood Middle School, North Harford Middle School and Magnolia Middle School, and the construction of six elementary schools.
“The three middle schools came with regulation-sized swimming pools, which was something different at the time,” Dr. Seccurro said.
“He was strong-willed and a straight shooter who always told it like it is,” Dr. Seccurro said. “He was thorough and while some thought he was a micromanager, it was just that he wanted to make sure everything was correct.”
“He was very student-oriented, and when it came to decision-making he put them on many committees,” Dr. Dubel said.
During his tenure as superintendent, Dr. Roberty sought funding for the construction of a new administration building for the central office staff that was confined to an aged two-story former elementary school, with some staff members being housed in inadequate rented spaces and in nearby houses.
Dr. Roberty was unsuccessful in his quest for funding since most available dollars were used in new school construction or school renovations. In 2007, the Harford County Board of Education dedicated a new $1 million four-story building for the central administrative staff and named the building after him.
One of the highlights of his career came in 1972 when Dr. Roberty was one of 30 top school administrators from the United States selected to travel to the Soviet Union to study schools there.
At the time of his retirement, Dr. Roberty told The Sun, “I’ll miss the association with people — what this job is all about,” and added, “I won’t have big stacks of mail every morning.”
He also said retirement would be “the end of a lot of meetings to attend, phone calls, political pressures. And I won’t have to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to decide if you were going to school because of the snow.”
Speaking at a commencement in 1988, Dr. Roberty recalled the words of a commencement speaker from years ago that in so many ways defined his life.
“If it is to be, it is up to me,” he said.
Dr. Roberty was active in many educational and civic organizations. He had served as president of the Bel Air Rotary Club, as a member of the Maryland Public Broadcasting Commission, and on the board of Blue Shield.
He was a member of the Harford Chamber of Commerce and had been president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, a member of the Maryland Commission on the Funding of Public Education, and a member of the American Association of School Administrators.
Dr. Roberty was an avid gardener who liked to fix things around his Bel Air home. He enjoyed good food and baking cookies, family members said. He liked collecting antique furniture and glassware and traveling, especially to Italy and Hawaii.
His wife, a homemaker, died in 2005.
Dr. Roberty was a member of Bel Air United Methodist Church at 21 Linwood Ave., where funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.
He is survived by two daughters, Paula G. Roberty, a retired Harford County public schools music teacher who lives in Forest Hill, and Cecilia R. Silva of Bel Air, a retired Baltimore County public schools teacher and assistant principal, and two grandsons.