Livingston Roberts: (1942 - 2004)
Born: Elkton, Florida
Livingston Roberts was born in Elkton, Florida he moved to Fort Pierce in 1957 to live with his grandmother who was running a boarding house. It is here where he met Alfred Hair they were both 19 years old. Both Livingston and Alfred shared a passion for painting and became inseparable friends. Living at his grandmothers house Livingston also met Harold and Sam Newton and like Alfred they too also became painting friends.
Livingston married Betty Davis in 1962 and together they had three children: Diane, Shirley, and Livingston, Jr. A few years later, he moved to Gifford where he lived for a short time in an apartment over the Green Leaf Bar. His brother Ernest helped sell his works. Always willing to share his talents, Livingston taught numerous painters including George and Ellis Buckner, Samuel Newton, Willie Daniels, Johnny Daniels, Jimmy Stovall and his brother-in-law Charles Walker. They all considered Livingston their teacher.
Life was good for Livingston in the 1960s. His paintings were selling well and he was surrounded by his many friends. Everything changed on the night of August 9, 1970 both Livingston and Alfred were at Eddie’s Bar, a juke joint on Avenue D in Fort Pierce. An argument broke out between Julius Funderburk and Alfred and in a rage, Funderburk went to his car and retrieved a gun. Returning to the bar, he shot Alfred twice. Alfred Hair was pronounced dead just before midnight. Alfred's death weighed heavy on Livingston, as he believed he should have or could have done something differently. Lying in his clothes covered with Alfred’s blood, he cried all night.
With the vivid memory of his best friend’s death, he was unable to stay in Fort Pierce. He soon left for upstate New York to work with his Uncle Bo, a potato farmer. He and his brothers had worked the potato fields with their uncle before and Livingston had the skills to do the work. Roberts stayed for five years in Castile and Buffalo and he began to heal. He continued to paint, selling most of his work in Canada. While he eventually found a way to deal with Alfred’s death, he continued to dream about it for years to come.
Livingston moved back to Fort Pierce in 1975, Roberts painted in his backyard under a Brazilian pepper tree with a piece of red carpet underneath his sandaled feet. His garden of collard greens was nearby. He would often paint without a shirt in order to keep cool in the Florida heat. A shirtless portrait of him on the obelisk honoring the Highwaymen, in the center of the roundabout at 15th Street and Avenue D, commemorates his artistry. This image is also on the back cover of Bob Beatty’s 2005 book, Florida’s Highwaymen: Legendary Landscapes.
Sadly, it was some of the pleasures he enjoyed most that would contribute to his death. Livingston Roberts was a heavy smoker who often lit a cigarette while painting. The combination of paint fumes and cigarette smoke lead to lung cancer. Mary Ann Carroll shared a prayer with him the day before he passed on January 17, 2004. She remembers that Livingston, even in his final days, enjoyed a good drink and a hearty laugh. Even when he was sick, she said, he was loving. While Livingston Roberts may not have become a minister, he is credited with many acts of good will.
Livingston painted his varied and detailed landscapes for 47 uninterrupted years. His drive to be an artist, as his sister Loretta Moran claimed, was born in him. Bean Backus was a friend, and his influence on him was strong. Livingston often visited Bean’s studio and learned from him in informal ways. Al Black said of Livingston, “He was the best painter of all the Highwaymen, and the nicest. I have sold Castro’s paintings since 1963. From Key West to Montgomery, Alabama, you just show them and his paintings sell themselves.”
Livingston Roberts was known as "Castro" to his many friends because his beard resembled that of Fidel Castro.
Livingston Roberts Biography information: obtained from website thehighwaymentrail.com. This website is a fantastic reference to learn about the 26 Florida Highwaymen artists and their importance to Florida's history.