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Roby, ‘true pioneer’ in women’s sports and UA alumna, dies at 85

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Mary Roby, a pioneer of UA women’s athletics, died Monday in Tucson at the age of 85. The cause of death was not released.

“Dr. Roby’s work has huge historical significance,” athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement. “We look back to a number of visionaries and people behind the success of University of Arizona athletics, and none have had a more dramatic impact than Mary.”

Roby was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995, six years after she retired from the UA. She worked at the UA for three decades, in what is considered one of the most important periods in the growth of college sports.

She began her time at the UA as an undergraduate, then as a professor in exercise and sports sciences, coach and administrator in Arizona’s women’s athletics. She worked in athletics from the time the program was only club sports to when Arizona became a prominent Division I sports program. Arizona’s budget for women’s sports grew from $8,000 at the time of her hiring to more than six figures during her 30-year career.

“Mary was one of the true pioneers in the growth of women’s athletics,” said Rocky LaRose, deputy athletic director, in a press release. “Her leadership and advocacy has led to thousands of sport opportunities for young girls and women, not just at Arizona but across the nation. Her pride and joy, though, was the UA program. The foundation she laid has led this program to the great successes we enjoy today.”

Roby was born in Miami, Ariz., in 1926 and became a student at the UA in 1944, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1948. She also earned a master’s degree from Smith College in 1949 and a doctorate from the University of Southern California in 1971. Her long association with the school as a faculty member began in 1959.

Over the course of Roby’s career at the UA, she accomplished much, especially in the area of women’s athletics. She directed the UA Women’s Recreation Association, served as women’s athletic director, had a hand in creating most UA women’s athletic programs, was one of the first women named to the NACDA’s Executive Committee and to the board of the United States Sports Academy. She also was vice president of the Pac-10 Conference and was a founder and board member of the Council of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators.

Other hall of fame inductions in Roby’s career included the UA’s Mortar Board Hall of Fame in 1981, the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame in 1989 and the NACDA Hall of Fame in 1995. In recent years, as a member of the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame selection committee, she remained an active member of UA athletics.

In 2006, donations by Laurel L. Wilkening and Fred Roby made it possible to honor Mary Roby in the Women’s Plaza of Honor on the UA campus. As a part of the donation, she was given a gateway entry and two arches with seating, along with a leaf tile.

Roby is survived by her husband, Fred Roby, a retired UA professor emeritus.

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