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Bobbi English, ‘Sesame Street’ television executive, dies

Bobbi English was a vice president of North American Television for Sesame Workshop.
Bobbi English was a vice president of North American Television for Sesame Workshop.

Bobbi English, a “Sesame Street” vice president of North American Television who worked to have the show reach underserved children, died of cancer Jan. 2 at Gilchrist Hospice in Columbia. She was 57 and lived in Columbia.

Maryland Public Television President Larry D. Unger said, "Bobbi left a lasting impression on everyone she met, and those that had an opportunity to work with her all understood what a special person she was. The fact she went on to accomplish great things at Sesame Workshop wasn’t at all surprising. She will be greatly missed by her MPT family.”

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Roberta Jo Smith, known as Bobbi, was born in in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. She was the daughter of Robert Smith, who owned and operated a Main Street clothing store, and his wife, Joanne, a third-grade teacher.

She earned a journalism degree at the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1981 and was named an evening news producer of the ABC-TV affiliate WAOW in Wausau, Wisconsin. She subsequently joined the public television station WGTE in Toledo, Ohio, and assisted its station programmer in picking and scheduling television content.

In 1994, she was hired as the assistant program manager at Maryland Public Television and later joined WETA in Washington, D.C., as vice president of station relations.

Ms. English was hired by Sesame Workshop in New York City, the producers of “Sesame Street” and other public television children’s programs, in 2001. She was vice president of stations and relations and was later vice president of of North American Television. She was responsible for the sales and distribution of “Sesame Street” programs throughout the United States and Canada.

She commuted to New York several days a week.

“It was her dream job,” said her husband, Michael English, the managing director of content at MPT.

He recalled their meeting at MPT in Owings Mills.

“She had just come from her job in Toledo, and we worked together for a long time,” he said. “She was a unique person. She was optimistic and loving. People describes her as a beacon of bright light who let that light shine on others. She believed the best thing she could do was to help children reach their full potential. She felt that ‘Sesame Street’ and public television was a way to do that."

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“Bobbi was very well-loved by her colleagues in the PBS system," her husband said. “She was drawn into public television because she believed deeply in the PBS commitment to serve underserved children.”

Sesame Workshop President Jeffrey Dunn said Ms. English played an important job in “cementing the company’s long-time partnership with PBS.”

"Bobbi embodied the very best of us,” Mr. Dunn said in a statement. “She lived the values espoused by Sesame Street that everyone, no matter who you are or where you are from, is deserving of respect, opportunity and love. ... [She had] a beautiful heart, optimism and kindness that she showed to everyone no matter who they were."

Colleagues at “Sesame Street” said she worked to air the show in smaller markets. They said a $300,000 Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant she helped secure supported educational outreach at PBS stations in 10 underserved rural communities from Alaska to Alabama.

“She was elated when she got that grant,” her husband said.

Colleagues said Ms. English worked with PBS stations to distribute nearly 10,000 Sesame-produced toolkits to help families cope with grief, parental addiction, family homelessness and emergency preparedness.

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“Bobbi didn’t do anything in a little way,” said her husband. "She belonged to five tennis leagues. She liked hiking and biking and enjoyed her trips to the Shenandoah Valley and the Adirondacks. She took long walks with her dog, Packer, named for the Green Bay Packers."

She was also a reader of fiction.

A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 9120 Frederick Road in Ellicott City.

In addition to her husband of 23 years, survivors include two daughters, Claire English and Sarah Leisawitz, both of Columbia; her mother, Joanne Smith of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin; and three brothers, Mark Smith of Madison, Wisconsin, Paul Smith of Honolulu and Jim Smith of Seattle.

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