Rotary president was gruff but giving

A longtime Newport Beach resident known for his decades of service with the Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa has died.

Friends and colleagues of Roger Whitney Gilbert, who died Feb. 12, called him "the rock" of the club who always gave sage advice. He was 80.

Gilbert was born and raised in Los Angeles. After earning a business degree at UC Berkeley, where he met his wife-to-be, Jocelyn Ann Muller, he served in the Army as an artillery officer. By the time he finished his eight-year service as a reservist, he attained the rank of captain.

Gilbert, who lived in Dover Shores, had a long career in the insurance business and a strong, lifelong work ethic, his family wrote in his paid obituary published in the Daily Pilot. It was an attitude that must've had its beginnings when he "pumped gas at Standard Oil," they wrote.

Gilbert was admitted to the Daily Pilot Community & Clubs Hall of Fame organized by columnist Jim de Boom in June. Gilbert's lifetime of service included serving on the audit committee for the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance Group and on the insurance council for the City of Hope, which gave him its Spirit of Life Award in 1992.

While raising his children in Hawthorne, Gilbert was also active in the Little League, PTA and church activities.

De Boom, who writes the Pilot's "Community & Clubs" column, knew Gilbert for 30 years through their Rotary Club service. Gilbert, who served as the club's president in 1995-96, had a patriotic way about him, de Boom said.

"During the pledge of allegiance, you could always hear Roger's distinct voice a half a step above everybody else," de Boom said. "He just belted out. He was just so proud of the United States."

Bill Hossfeld, a past Rotary president who served on the board alongside Gilbert, said he could be a little gruff at times, but always gave good advice so "you weren't gonna stumble all over yourself."

"He was a great mentor to me," Hossfeld said. "He helped me for many years in my preparation to become our club president."

Gilbert had a warm and "free-giving heart," but was very matter of fact, Hossfeld added.

"Everybody in our club has the highest respect for Roger," Hossfeld said. "If you had a problem, you'd come to him. He was always a huge help."

Newport-Balboa President A.J. Thielen also called Gilbert a great mentor, a no-nonsense kind of guy who could separate the wheat from the chaff.

"His opinions in the board meetings were always the most respected," Thielen said. "He had a profound way of providing clarity to difficult situations, clarity to opaque issues."

"He's a huge loss to our club," Thielen added. "He was the rock of our club."

Gilbert is survived by his wife, Jocelyn, sons Michael and Bradley Gilbert, daughter Cynthia Gilbert Marez, and seven grandchildren.

A public service was held Tuesday at the Pacific View Memorial Park & Mortuary, 3500 Pacific View Drive, Corona del Mar.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Rotary Club of Newport-Balboa or to the City of Hope.

Twitter: @bradleyzint

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