Meet Gypsy-Spirited Marsha Roberts, Self-Proclaimed “Mutinous Baby Boomer”

by Anne Holmes on March 15, 2013

marsharobertsWelcome to another post in our “Voices” blog. Today, I introduce you to Marsha Roberts, another gypsy-spirited Baby Boomer Woman.

Marsha tells us she she’s a serial careerist. Her first profession was as a scrub nurse in open-heart surgery, but her “itchy travel feet” weren’t happy. So at 23 she walked away from that life to travel and seek new adventures.

Before she found her true calling, Marsha spent time working as an art director, stage manager and film editor. Along the way she discovered a knack for selling creative projects and produced marketing films and elaborate Corporate Theatre presentations for IBM, Coca-Cola, Revlon, Georgia-Pacific and Domino’s Pizza among others.

This led the way to developing and producing a full theatrical production, “Letters From the Front,” the only professional play to tour American military bases around the world. “Letters” touched hundreds of thousands of lives, toured for fifteen years and was the first play ever to perform at the Pentagon. Traveling with the show, Marsha found her troupe entertaining troops in Germany, England, Belgium, Italy, Spain, S. Korea, Japan, Guam and the Indian Ocean, plus virtually every major city in the states including in Alaska and Hawaii — all with her kid in tow.

The daunting process of getting this never-been-done-before production off the ground and onto a worldwide stage gave her a keen awareness of what it takes to overcome life’s obstacles and find the miraculous in the commonplace.

More recently, Marsha’s put away her traveling shoes, and has spent her days “chained to her computer.” First, writing her book, “Confessions of a Mutinous Baby Boomer,” then figuring out how to market it, and most recently putting together an Authors-Like-Authors program for the new “Boomer Lit” group at Goodreads. MutinousBBoomer-Cover2012

In fact, “Confessions” is the book the Boomer Lit Group is reading right now. (March 15 – April 15, 2013.) But we’ve heard a rumor that Marsha is in the early planning stages of taking “Letters from the Front” back out on tour. So before she heads off again, we caught up with Marsha to ask her our favorite questions. Her answers are below.

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

I spent a great deal of my childhood peeking out from behind stage curtains and watching my dad perform, theatre lights bouncing off him, the dimly lit faces of the audience just beyond. In other words, show business is in my blood.

So, although I started out professionally as an operating room nurse, it didn’t take long before my restless gypsy nature forced me to move on. I never wanted to be a performer like my dad, but rather to be backstage, behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz!

After learning the ropes in a variety of jobs, I became a theatrical producer. Eventually I developed, produced and marketed Letters From The Front, the only professional play to tour military bases all over the world for fifteen years.

In the process of getting this never-been-done-before production off the ground and onto a worldwide stage, I found out that angels were real and miracles inevitable.

Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc.

MarshaBob2011I am one of the really fortunate ones in this area. I’ve been married to the same wonderful guy for 37 years and we still like each other! I had a short, disastrous marriage before I met Bob, one of those moments of youth you have to get out of your system before you go on.

Bob came into my life complete with a small son, who became like my own almost instantly. We had another son eight years later.

Frankly I’m not a very good mother. I’ve always been more like a big sister to my boys than a mom. But it worked out fine, as grown men they are still my dear friends. They both “boomeranged” a few years ago, but now it’s just me, Bob and our dog Smokey – hoorah!

My mom died in 1974 of breast cancer. My dad died last year at 90 after a pretty amazing life. However, he had been sick for several years, so my two sisters and I certainly grew to understand the challenges of dealing with an elderly parent.

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

The wonder of going to see a movie like “Ben Hur” at a huge movie palace where ushers took us to reserved seats and we dressed as if we were going to church. I was seven when it came out in 1959 and I vividly remember the feel of my dad’s coat as I hid my eyes when Stephen Boyd was dying after the chariot race. It was a magical night.

Fast forward to 1964 when The Beach Boys came to town. I was near the front, screaming like a maniac with the rest of the girls when suddenly I was caught up in a push towards the band. I got trapped up against the stage and the girls behind me kept shoving so hard that somehow (honestly, Dad, it wasn’t my fault!)

I ended up on stage with the band, standing there with my mouth wide open! I felt a hand take my arm and escort me gently backstage, only to find out that this was a friend of my dad’s who ran the auditorium – the same theatre that my dad performed in regularly. I begged him not to tell dad what happened, to no avail…

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

I’m mutinous by nature. When we were young, we all mutinied against the system, we mutinied against being told we couldn’t and we refused to be placed in a box that most of our mother’s generation lived in. We were smart, ambitious, full of energy and insisted on being able to play in a man’s world. There were others that paved the way for us, but as a group, we were pretty doggone fearless. I have to say, I’m a prototypical Boomer gal.

 What inspires you?

  • People who have overcome incredible odds to accomplish something extraordinary. Whether it is fighting an illness or achieving a dream, they inspire me.
  •  The bravery and stouthearted nature of the men and women of our armed forces and the families that love them.
  • The view from a mountain top.
  • Most of all, seeing the intervention of God in our lives. We live with miracles around us every day, but some of them are so astonishing, they make me catch my breath.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

Can I really talk about that here? If you hadn’t used the word “pleasure” I would resist the temptation, but you opened the door! In a word – sex! I think it’s God’s great consolation prize for us gals as we get older.

We know our bodies and aren’t so intimidated by the comparison to the practically unachievable perfection of youth (least we not forget, we were, of course, the first generation of girls who had to deal with Playboy magazine!). And we’ve had the time to get good at it! What’s not to like?

 Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Actually, the things most people would consider hobbies, I’ve pursued professionally, including travel. I guess the few things I do that could be considered hobbies are gardening (nothing quite like flowers blooming!), I’m a big movie buff and I love to paint and keep promising myself I’m going to do it more often. I’m not sure if this is a hobby or a pastime, but I watch NFL football like an addict every fall.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

GroundhogDayAs a professed movie buff, I have lots of favorite movies, depending on my mood. But, since we are talking about being Baby Boomers here, I’d have to say that “Groundhog Day” is my favorite movie.

First off, it has the great Boomer actor Bill Murray in it and I’m a sucker for Murray. But mainly because, even though it’s crazy and goofy on one level, it also has an underlying depth to it. I have drawn on its truths many times.

He gets stuck, waking up every morning and it’s the same day, over and over: Groundhog Day. How many times have I gotten “stuck” in my life? Too many. Anyway, it’s how he gets “unstuck” that’s so special.

He has to take the focus off of himself and think of others. He starts seeing life as a blessing and goes out of his way to do kind things for others. He improves himself, learning how to do new things. He goes from being extremely self-centered and cynical to truly loving his fellow human beings.

In the process, he becomes a joyful person, a delight to be around, falls in love and he can finally move forward. This movie has a great recipe for happiness embedded in it!

 Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

Because of the work I’ve done, I’ve traveled to places you probably haven’t even heard of before – I know I hadn’t!

Besides going to every state in America (driving, mind you, hundreds of thousands of miles of driving…) I’ve been to highly traveled as well as obscure spots in England, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Okinawa, South Korea, Guam and on and on.

At one point we crossed the International Date Line so many times that we arrived before we left! We landed on tiny beautiful islands like La Maddalena (your basic Mediterranean paradise) and Diego Garcia (in the Indian Ocean – looked like the jungles of Jurrasic Park!).

My traveling companion in business and in pleasure has been my husband, Bob. Always ready for another adventure, he is the perfect person to see the world with!

 Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate

The basics. I take a fairly high dosage of vitamins, get an adequate amount of exercise and sleep, drink lots of water and eat a ton of veggies.

I’m not a vegetarian, in fact I love a good steak (Bob is a master steak griller!). However, I’ve learned to pay attention to what my body tells me and there are some foods that just don’t agree with me as I’ve gotten older, so I don’t eat them, or eat them only on rare occasions. Unfortunately, beef and pork are two of these.

I’m pleased to say that wine still agrees with me just fine and they say that red wine is actually good for you – so there you are!

 What do you stress about?

I’m not going to say that I don’t stress, everybody does. And probably the number one trigger for most of us these days is financial.

But, I don’t stress a lot anymore because I’ve really worked at it. In fact, one of the main themes of my book is that I got to the point in life that I was SO stressed, that I realized I had lost some very essential qualities of my personality.

I had always been someone who insisted on being happy, but I got so stressed that I felt I didn’t have time to be happy – I just had to “solve the problem.” I was miserable. What was I so stressed about? Money, business issues, money, health issues, money, trying not to lose our house, money.

There are a few things I know for certain and one of them is that I will never go back to being that stressed-out woman again. I found my way out of that trap and I now know how to stay out.

 Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

HA! Good question! YES! It IS important for me to retain my youthful looks! I admit it! Vanity thy name is Marsha! But, since I started out as an operating room nurse, no nips or tucks for me – I know too much to let them cut on me!

I watch my weight (I’ve struggled with it my entire life, so nothing new there!), I have a basic exercise regimen (not too strenuous, but it seems to keep things from falling too quickly), I stay out of the sun as much as possible but religiously use sunscreen when needed, I buy the best affordable face creams and I laugh a lot! Good for the immune system and you always look younger when you’re smiling! Oh, yeah, and I color my hair…

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

Many times! I started out as a scrub nurse in open-heart surgery. Not my goal, just necessity. Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer and I had to come home from college because dad couldn’t afford it. You can always get a job when you’re a nurse, so that’s what I did. Great life experience, but not my destiny. At 23 I quit to find it.

Among other things, I worked as an Art Director, Stage Manager and documentary Film Editor. Then, through a series of circumstances that seemed quite accidental, I began producing films and elaborate Corporate Theatre presentations for IBM, Coca-Cola, Revlon and other huge corporations. I have since learned there are few coincidences and that it all happened on purpose. These productions were simply my training ground.

There was a much larger calling for me that came out of the blue – or perhaps I should say out of the dark. On September 13, 1990 I was awakened in the middle of the night. There were letters hanging in the air, shining like a neon sign: LETTERS FROM THE FRONT. This wasn’t a dream, I was wide awake. Implausible as it may seem, it was a God-given vision that totally changed my life, the lives of my family and many others.

I was re-invented in a heartbeat that night. Letters From The Front was to become a play, written by my husband Bob, that would tour the world for 15 years, entertaining and touching the lives of America’s troops and their loved ones. Not to mention how much they touched our lives.

When Letters From The Front went on hiatus several years ago, I was rather lost. Life didn’t seem magical anymore. But I had just taken a wrong turn. I found my way back through writing about the things we learn during life’s adventures, but often forget when we need those lessons the most. Re-invented once again. What a miracle.

Do you plan to retire?

And do what? I don’t even understand the concept of retirement. However, except for my brief stint as a nurse, I’ve always worked for myself – either free lancing or running a small business with Bob.

I understand it is a different thought process for people who have worked for a company their whole adult lives. I can understand they would want to retire. But for us, we are both driven to create and I can’t imagine retiring from creating!

 Are you doing anything to GO Green?

To be honest, to “GO Green” has not been a priority of mine. But, us Boomers were raised on the thought process of clean air, clean water and “Keep America Beautiful,” so a lot of the things I do that would be considered “green” today are just long term habits. I’d say my current contribution to “GO Green” is my lovely flower garden. It’s beautiful, all natural and makes everyone relax and smile!

 Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

I remember there was a specific point in time where I realized that I was the kind of person who hardly ever learned anything without getting her heart broken.

That was sure the case a few years ago. Early in what is now called “The Banking Crisis,” our home was unexpectedly foreclosed on. We had the misfortune to have our mortgage with Lehman Brothers, the only bank that didn’t get bailed out, and they weren’t negotiating with anyone. We had been misinformed about our situation and when the true information was revealed, we had to move very quickly.

In hindsight, this was the best thing that could have happened to us. We moved from hectic big city life to a peaceful, beautiful spot in the mountains. In the quiet, I became a writer. Confessions of an Instinctively Mutinous Baby Boomer would never have been written if that difficult series of events hadn’t happened. A crisis turned into a blessing!

 Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

In the plant world they say that if it isn’t growing, it’s dying. I believe that when we stop dreaming, we stop living. Yes, I have a bunch of dreams yet to be fulfilled. First on the list is I want to see Letters From The Front on Broadway. I know how it touches people and I want to see people touched there, in New York, the show looking beautiful in a first class theatre. And, yes, I’ve got my toe in the water in hopes of making this dream come true.

Plus, there are a few spots on the globe that I haven’t visited that I need to see: Australia, New Zealand, the Greek Islands, the fjords of Norway, Scotland and Ireland. And I dream of spending a significant amount of time in northern Italy. I’ve been there many times, but for only a few weeks at a time. Not enough.

I’m a writer now and I have a number of books that are burning a hole in my brain and I’m not sure if I can ever totally fulfill the dream of getting it all down on paper. But, that’s OK, we need to have one dream that is unfulfilled so we keep striving!

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

When we began touring Letters From The Front to military bases overseas, I was struck by how many servicemen and women came up to us after the show and said, “Thanks for not forgetting about us.”

It occurred to me that during Desert Storm there was a huge outpouring of support through writing letters to the soldiers and we should continue to let them know how much we appreciate them.

In 1999 I organized the “Letters TO the Front Letter Writing Contest.” I convinced our sponsor, General Mills, to extend their support to include the contest. Veterans organizations got involved all over the country and went to local schools to get the kids to write letters. Every year, the Grand Prize winners in each age category received a $3,000 scholarship.

In 2001, after 9/11 when there was the anthrax scare, all of the other letter writing endeavors were halted because of obvious concerns. However, the Department of Defense (with the cooperation of the USPS) allowed us to continue our “Letters TO the Front” program because we opened and read every single letter.

Through our program, hundreds of thousands of hand-written letters continued to go to the fine men and women serving this country. Soldiers wrote heart-felt thanks back to me and often said they put the letter they received in their pocket, so they could read it when they needed encouragement.

But, life isn’t usually about an endeavor of this magnitude. It’s usually about ordinary day-to-day activities. I believe that regardless of what we’re doing, it is how much love we do it with that matters.

If I’m simply at the check out counter at the grocery store, I believe it’s my job to send love and joy out. It has an energy that moves us like the wind moves the trees. It is this energy that brings miracles into people’s lives. We may never know the difference we make, but it can only be good.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

Well, of course there have been so many, but if I had to pinpoint a specific person, as a child it would have to be my bigger-than-life Aunt Francine. Her house was full of the things she had made and collected during her travels. She had a huge workroom where she painted, did pottery and unique crafts of all sorts. She drove a red sports car and laughed easily. Her husband was a pilot and they traveled all over the world. The slide shows of their travels put a fire in me from a early age to see the world. She was her own person and lived life to its fullest all the time. She was born in 1916 and was way ahead of her time.

As an adult, no question about it that my husband Bob Rector has had the biggest influence. When I met Bob I was bouncing all over the place – a ton of creative energy with no focus. Bob can focus like a laser beam and he taught me how. He is someone who expects the very best out of himself, no excuses, and brings the best out of others. He has always accepted and loved me for exactly who I am, a trait which I’m still learning from him.

 If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose.

Earlier today I was walking Smokey and I saw a little girl about three years old who had a measuring tape in her hand, the kind a carpenter uses. She was pulling it out and letting it snap back in and she said, in a sassy voice, “They say this is a boy’s toy, but I don’t believe it.”

I told her she was right, because I had one, too. But, inside I was thinking, Yay! She doesn’t believe it! We’ve come a long way baby!

My mission statement? It’s grand being a girl. I love it! I’ve never let it keep me from doing anything I wanted to do and am grateful to the core of my being that I was born at a time when a woman had so many choices. My choice? To be me. Flawed, curious, adventurous, creative, mutinous, a dreamer who is in love with the world around her and the God who put us here. I’m a Boomer and I’m darn proud of it. We’re awesome.


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