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May 16, 2024

James Roebuck, state representative who served Philly for decades, dies at 79

The Democrat represented the 188th District from 1985 to 2020.

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Jim Roebuck Death Jim Roebuck/Facebook

James R. Roebuck Jr., a Democrat, served the 188th District for more than three decades.

James R. Roebuck Jr., a longtime state representative for West Philadelphia, has died at age 79. 

The Democrat served the 188th District, which includes the neighborhoods of Spruce Hill, Walnut Hill and University City, from 1985 until 2020. When, where and how he died was not immediately made public. 

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Roebuck was a Philadelphia native who graduated from Central High School before getting a bachelor's degree from Virginia Union University. He then received a master's degree and Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, where he was the first Black president of the school's student council. He then worked as a legislative assistant to former Mayor Wilson Goode and was an assistant professor at Drexel before he was elected to state office. 

In his political life, Roebuck was the chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus and the House Education Committee. He was also appointed to the Task Force on Higher Education Funding, the Public School Building Construction and Reconstruction Advisory Committee, the Special Education Funding Commission and the Higher Education Funding Commission. 

From 1995 to 2020, he served on the board of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. 

Multiple state and local politicians expressed their condolences in light of his passing. Dwight Evans (D-District 3), a fellow representative of Philadelphia and personal friend of Roebuck, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: "I’m saddened to learn of the passing of a dedicated advocate for education & for Philadelphia. ... It was an honor to serve as his best man at his wedding, and with him in the PA House for 31 years. I send my condolences to his loved ones."

"I'm saddened to hear about the passing of State Representative Jim Roebuck Jr.," Councilmember Jamie Gauthier wrote. "For decades, he fiercely fought for West Philly, most especially our young people. I'm keeping his family in my thoughts during this difficult time."

State Rep. Rick Krajewski (D), who defeated Roebuck in the 2020 election to serve the 188th District, said Roebuck and his wife, Cheryl, were mainstays of the West Philadelphia community. 

“Jim was a longtime champion for public education in Philadelphia, fighting against Republican budget cuts for years, and his leadership formed the foundation of our fight for school funding today," Krajewski said.