In Memory of
Phoebe Martha

Obituary for Phoebe Roberts

Dr. Phoebe Martha (Robertson) Roberts, a Research Fellow at Pfizer who was an avid athlete and world traveler, died unexpectedly on Sunday, December 8 near her home in Beverly, MA. She was 47.
Phoebe was born on July 25, 1966 in Urbana, IL, to Jane (Ingersoll) Robertson and Dr. James E. Robertson, a Professor of Computer Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1968 and lived there until she graduated from Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School in 1984. She graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a BA in Biology in 1988. After several years of research at Toronto’s ”Sick Kids” hospital, Phoebe attended graduate school at the University of Chicago and received a PhD in Molecular Biology in 1997, publishing research on the degradation of intracellular proteins. She performed postdoctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania.
She began her professional career at Proteome, Inc, a small biotech startup in Beverly, MA in 2000. She then joined Biogen and later, Pfizer, where she helped nurture the emerging field of biomedical text-mining. Phoebe’s pioneering use of automated text mining tools gave researchers the ability to better understand the medical and scientific implications of the academic literature. By compiling and organizing the literature, Phoebe’s work allowed researchers to avoid repeating earlier work and focus on the most promising future directions. Phoebe used to sum up her work by telling researchers that ”a week in the lab will save you an afternoon in the library.”
In addition to her passion for science, Phoebe was a remarkable athlete with diverse skills and interests. She biked, skied, hiked, kayaked and ran with the enthusiasm and prowess of someone half her age. Among her most notable athletic achievements was the completion of the 750-mile Boston-Montréal-Boston bike event in 2001, along with multiple full marathons. Her latest vacation involved a 7-day mountain bike trip from Telluride, CO to Moab, UT. She tailored her daily commute to include an eleven-mile ride on her folding bicycle. During the winter, she spent available weekends skiing at Killington, VT.
Phoebe loved to travel and visited many interesting places across the globe in her short life. This week, in fact, she had scheduled a trip to Japan to deliver a keynote speech at the Languages in Biology and Medicine Symposium in Tokyo. In the summer months, when not traveling, she enjoyed the natural beauty of the water, warm sands, and camaraderie found at Beverly Farm’s West Beach.
Phoebe was a member of North Shore Cyclists and served on the Beverly Farms/Pride’s Crossing Fourth of July Committee.
Phoebe is survived by her husband of nine years, Frank Roberts, of Beverly, MA; her brother David Robertson of Philadelphia, PA, his wife Anne Standley, and nephew and niece Gordon and Caroline; brother Alan Robertson of Ann Arbor, MI; and sister Alice Dunn of Florence, KY.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that a donation be made in her honor to Smile Train (, a charity devoted to the repair of cleft palate defects in children or to the Make-A-Wish Foundation (

Phoebe’s untimely death is an immeasurable loss not only for her family but also for her countless friends and colleagues from across the country and around the world. She will be sorely missed.
Visiting hours will be at the Campbell - Lee, Moody, Russell Funeral Home, 525 Cabot Street, North Beverly on Thursday, (today) December 12, 2013 from 5 - 8pm. A Funeral Service will be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church, 705 Hale St., Beverly Farms, Saturday at 1:00pm. Relatives and friends are invited to attend. Burial will be in the Central Cemetery, Beverly. Information, directions, condolences at