Mention of the name E.H. Roberts elicited memories of a sharp, creative man who always was working and thinking, and providing lots of laughs to those he knew.
The owner of Elyria’s longtime E.H. Roberts Heating and Air Conditioning Co. at the corner of state Routes 57 and 254, Roberts died at the age of 87 in October.
Due to his wishes for no funeral service or public acknowledgment of his passing, family and friends have instead planned a celebration of Roberts’ life 6 to 8 p.m. March 23 at Sorrento’s Italian Restaurant in Sheffield.
“Ernie didn’t want an obituary, and he didn’t want any kind of ceremony,” Mayor Holly Brinda said. “He was a very dear friend of mine, and I’m in the process of putting together a celebration of his life with his daughter Kathleen.”
The March 23 gathering is open to anyone who wants to come and reminisce about Roberts, Brinda said.
“It’s for anyone who knew Ernie,” she said. “He was bigger than life, truly one of life’s characters. I’ve met a lot of people in my life, and if I had to think of five people I remember most, he would be on that hand.”
Brinda credits her interest in politics culminating in her election as Elyria mayor in 2011 to Roberts.
“I worked for an ad agency early in my career, and he hired me to help him market his business,” Brinda said. “In the course of that, we got to know each other.”
That friendship led to Roberts involving Brinda in county politics and her marketing work for the Lorain County Democratic Party.
“Ernie was my mentor in all of that,” Brinda said. “He was a very creative, innovative, self-made man who touched thousands of people in so many ways.”
Longtime Elyria politician and businessman Vic Stewart recalled working with Roberts in the 1980s on what would turn out to be the successful election campaign for George Ferguson, who was running for Elyria Municipal Court judge — a position he held for more than 20 years.
“Ernie was quite a character about those kinds of things,” Stewart recalled. “He did some strange campaign tactics. They were off the wall.”
A prime example was a bus Roberts found and refurbished into what Stewart called “a mobile campaign headquarters.”
“There were speakers on it, and we’d go up and down the street and jump out to do door-to-door campaigning,” Stewart said. “It made a very loud spectacle in the neighborhoods. Nobody had ever done something like that before.”
Thanks to long years of running and building up his own successful business, Roberts “knew the value of a good promotion,” according to Stewart.
Roberts’ heating and air conditioning company is still in its longtime location but under different ownership, operating as Mr. Comfort’s Comfort Experts. Anyone who travels around Lorain County likely knows the building — it has the perpetually rocking figure of a man with his foot up on a stove on the side of the building that faces state Route 57.
Stewart summed up his friend as “a very fun-loving, eccentric, very jovial guy. He was just a really great, likable guy.”
Roberts’ “magnetic” personality enabled him to “always attract people to his way of thinking whether on a civic matter or school levy or something else. He left a mark on the community, that’s for sure,” Stewart said.
Echoing Stewart’s description of Roberts as a “character,” Brinda recalled how Roberts’ “clock was 24 hours a day.”
“It wasn’t unusual to get a call in the middle of the night or 5 a.m. when he got an idea,” Brinda said with a laugh. “He was always working, always thinking.”
Roberts would sometimes sleep underneath his desk at the business after working into the night.
“He used to keep a pillow under the desk,” Brinda said.
Brinda said she talked with Roberts at least once every few weeks. Their last conversation came a few days before Roberts passed away.
“He was calling to make sure I had all his advice for the campaign,” Brinda said.
Roberts always maintained a home in Elyria but spent most of his time at retirement homes he had in Davis, Calif., and Marathon Key, Fla. After his death, he was cremated and had his ashes thrown into the Atlantic Ocean near his Florida home.
Roberts is survived by his wife, Fran, who lives in California, and four adult children who live in Florida, the western U.S., and Europe, Brinda said.