Obituary: Roberto Desiderio Rabago

Roberto Desiderio Rabago

Roberto Desiderio Rabago

Roberto Desiderio Rabago

1930 - 2022

Roberto Desiderio Rabago passed away on October 11, 2022, in Folsom, California. He was 92 years old.

He had fallen ill while he and his wife Ann were on a visit to California.

Roberto had two constants in his life. First was his love of his birthplace and hometown, Jerome, Arizona. Second was his belief in maintaining a positive attitude against all odds, saying, “Don’t get discouraged!”

His smile, kindness, laughter, good humor, and love of life were good lessons for us all. Born a miner’s son, he was, in his youth, formed by the best of times and the worst of times in the hard-luck town of Jerome. Together with family and friends, he always pulled through difficulties and helped others to do so as well.

Roberto’s life of possibilities against great odds started early. Roberto graduated from Jerome High School in 1947, becoming his family’s first high school graduate. He then served in the Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, as a sergeant. Before he returned to Jerome, however, the mine went bust, and his family moved to Fresno, California, to live near his father’s sister and to find work.

Roberto’s intellectual curiosity, courage, and persistence took him far, even at this time. In Fresno, he and his siblings mortgaged their car to purchase a house for his mother and family. As an Army Veteran, he attended college on the G.I. Bill at California State University, Fresno.

At CSU, he participated all four years in R.O.T.C. and earned a BS degree in Physics, becoming his family’s first college graduate.

Roberto also at that time married Marilyn Bennet of Fresno, with whom he had his three children.

After college, he worked in Aeronautics as an airplane mechanic and later as an engineer in Research and Development. He lived with his family in Fresno, Orange County, and the SF Bay Area of California.

Because of his enthusiasm for people and places, he accepted an international job selling nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) equipment. His work as a traveling Sales Engineer took him to many countries in Latin America and Asia.

When the civil rights era commenced, however, Roberto felt the call of a different drummer at home in the United States. Around age 40, he decided to become an attorney to support and defend farm laborers. While still working his day job in engineering, he attended Santa Clara Law School at night and graduated, passed the California State Bar Exam, and won his first case out of law school that protected the civil rights of farmworkers.

He also earned a graduate degree in law from Boalt Hall at the University of California, Berkeley.

During his time at Boalt Hall, Roberto wrote a paper illuminating the importance of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo and the unacknowledged partnership between Mexico and a United States that “could have been.”

Early in his law career, Roberto worked for MALDEF, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, a civil rights organization.

Under Jerry Brown’s first term as California governor, Roberto headed the California State Office of Economic Opportunity. When politics changed, Roberto left Sacramento to start his own law practice.

A staunch believer in the Constitutional Right to a fair trial, Roberto later went to work in criminal defense, where he represented “the underdogs” as a Fresno County Public Defender, including death penalty cases. His legal expertise earned him the respect of his peers, judges and prosecution teams.

After retiring as a Public Defender, Roberto moved back to his hometown of Jerome, where he volunteered on the Town Council for a term. He also volunteered during the Jerome Home & Building Tours, where he was able to share much of his knowledge of Jerome mining days.

Twice daily for many years, Roberto would walk down his cobblestoned street to unlock/relock the doors of the Holy Family Church to make it available for residents and visitors alike. Roberto was an avid participant at gatherings and reunions with his classmates from Jerome High School. In 2017, he attended his “Class of 1947” 70th Reunion.

Post “retirement”, Roberto worked in real estate for several years. One famous listing was of a mining claim that, for nearly 20 years, could not be located until Roberto hired a helicopter to fly over the claim area, finally pinpointing the exact GPS coordinates. Eventually he became his own broker and formed Copper Star Real Estate.

Clearly a man of many talents, during his most recent intellectual pursuits, Roberto authored two books: Rich Town, Poor Town in 2011, and Awakened by the Hidden Poet in 2022. His previously untapped gift for writing historical fiction comes out in both books to help readers understand Jerome during the mining days, as well as life in the beyond.

Roberto loved his family, his friends, classic literature, poetry, music, politics, sports cars, fine food and wines, and overall, the wonderful possibilities that life offers us all. He is survived by his wife, Ann, his brother Leo (Elsie), his children Robert, Valerie, and Jerry (Bernadette); his grandchildren, Emily, Jessica, and Ben, and three great-grandchildren.

Predeceasing him were his father and mother, Leopoldo and Concepcion, his brother Cruz, and his sisters, Belia, Bertha, Barbara, and Carolina.

Roberto was truly a Jerome treasure.

In lieu of flowers, his family requests that donations be made in his honor to the Jerome Historical Society.

A Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, May 6, 2023, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. at Spook Hall in Jerome, AZ.

Information provided by the family.


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