Vanderbilt Magazine

Ken Roberts: Visionary Community and Business Leader

Portrait shot of Ken Roberts, allum and philanthropist in a dark suit, white shirt and dark red tie
Vanderbilt University Special Collections and Photo Archives

Kenneth Lewis “Ken” Roberts, BA’54, JD’59, of Nashville, emeritus member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust and an active and engaged leader, died Dec. 2, 2022. He was 89.

With drive and passion, Roberts made significant contributions in areas ranging from business and philanthropy to education, art and music.

At Vanderbilt, Roberts was on the football and track and field teams, president of Sigma Chi fraternity and member of Omicron Delta Kappa honor society. After earning his bachelor’s, he served two years as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps. He returned to Vanderbilt to study law and was editor-in-chief of Vanderbilt Law Review and a member of the Order of the Coif academic society. He graduated as the law school’s Founder’s Medalist.

Roberts practiced law for several years before pursuing politics and eventually launching a distinguished career in banking. He was longtime president of First American National Bank in Nashville, where he championed women and people of color in the banking industry. He served as a member of the Federal Advisory Council to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

A visionary and dedicated advocate for the arts, he was instrumental in the development of Nashville’s Frist Art Museum. He was a board member of the Nashville Symphony, a supporter of the Nashville Jazz Workshop and was himself an accomplished pianist. In 2022, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum inducted Roberts into its Circle Guard, recognizing his commitment to country music’s artists, history and legacy.

He is survived by his second wife, Delphine Oman Sloan Roberts, ’63, and by two sons and four grandchildren. He also is survived by his stepchildren, including J. Elliott Sloan III, BA’89, EMBA’02, and Catherine “Katie” J.B. Sloan, JD’05; and his step-grandchildren, including Sloan F. Damon, BA’17.