Christmastime was joyful for retirees Jake and Betsy Roak, who gathered their large family for a weekend of celebration in Lafayette Hill.
But the following Monday, tragedy struck. He lay down for a nap at their home in the Hill at Whitemarsh and never awoke. On finding him dead, she suffered a stroke and died two days later at Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience in Philadelphia.
They died as they had lived — together, said the Rev. Canon Albert J. Ogle, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church’s interim rector.
“They lived their lives fully, inspired in the service of others, and shared their love of family, country, and church with all of us,” he wrote in the church bulletin. “We are the better for it, and we will miss them as they step out together on their next adventure.”
Ogle said his last memory of the two was after services on Sunday, Dec. 29, when they carried poinsettias from the altar to be given to shut-ins. “Right to the end, they were thinking of others,” Ogle wrote.
Robert H. Roak, 82, and Elizabeth C. Roak, 77, had just celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary when they died, he of cardiac arrest, she from the stroke. After services, they’ll be buried together at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes’) Church in Philadelphia, where Mr. Roak’s father, John, was once rector.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Roak, known as “Jake,” attended Episcopal Academy and graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. He earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in German from the University of Colorado.
After serving in the National Guard and the Marines, he became a scholar, teacher, and coach at William Penn Charter School in East Falls, and later at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn.
“He read widely, took an interest in a variety of subjects and disciplines, and nurtured the potential of every student,” his family said in a statement.
Mr. Roak was granted three Fulbright Teacher Exchange Awards to Germany and Switzerland, where he developed a network of friends that was the catalyst for a youth exchange program. His aim was to cultivate an understanding of other cultures and their values.
“He taught people to listen, to explore, to compromise,” the family said.
Also born in Philadelphia, Mrs. Roak, known as “Betsy,” attended the Agnes Irwin School in Bryn Mawr and graduated from the Madeira School in McLean, Va. She earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Chestnut Hill College and a master’s degree with a major in Native American studies from Wesleyan University.
She began a teaching career at what is now Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, then moved to St. Barnabas School in Germantown. In Connecticut, she worked in admissions at the Hotchkiss School, was the interim head of the Town Hill School, was head of the middle school at Indian Mountain, and ran the reading center at the Salisbury School.
After moving back to the Philadelphia area, Mrs. Roak became a learning specialist at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr. “She was passionate about helping young struggling readers,” her family said.
In retirement, the two enjoyed volunteer work and spending time with family and friends.
They started an after-school tutorial program at the Mattie N. Dixon Community Cupboard for 20 children referred by teachers in the Wissahickon School District. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, they raised enough money to buy two trailer homes and towed them to New Orleans to shelter those displaced by the storm.
Both were active with the nonprofit Face to Face, a multi-faceted social service organization in Germantown.
They spent summers with family in Maine, where Mrs. Roak swam in the chilly waters and her husband went boating and tinkered in his wood shop. Both studied the family history.
“Together, they advanced a family legacy and made a huge difference in the lives of their children and grandchildren,” the family said.
Surviving are children Christopher, Jennifer Edgerton, and Lisa Budd, and nine grandchildren.
A celebration of the couple’s lives will be at 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 22 E. Chestnut Hill Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19118 Interment is private.
Contributions in his memory may be made to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Outreach Fund at the address above.