Roberta “Robbie” Chase loved Africa and its wildlife, and when she turned 60, she decided to visit some of its most remote places to see highland gorillas, chimpanzees and golden monkeys in their natural habitats.
The Santa Rosa mother and former teacher, along with her dentist husband, booked seven strenuous, guided treks over a 10-day period in the mountain jungles of Rwanda and Uganda.
But after they flew deep into the Serengeti to see the migration of millions of wildebeests, zebras and gazelles and the great cats that prey upon them, Chase began to develop a problem in her hip.
“We thought it was a muscle pull,” said her husband, Doug, of Santa Rosa, or even a bad tear as the condition worsened. But it turned into a case of deep vein thrombosis, or clotting, that would prove fatal.
On March 4, Robbie Chase died of a pulmonary embolism at the airport in Zanzibar after flying there, according to her family.
Two years earlier, Chase, a tall, athletic woman with a ready smile who had trekked to monasteries in Bhutan, paddled Amazon streams, and clambered up glaciers in Patagonia, had hip replacement surgery.
But she wanted to keep challenging herself not to “do the cruises, or the things we could do when we were 85,” her husband said.
Born in Pasadena in 1957 with the maiden name Sorensen, she moved to San Luis Obispo when she was in the third grade. Her father was dean of the psychology department at Cal Poly and her mother an elementary school teacher.
Chase was on the high school basketball team, tennis team and rode horses in barrel racing shows.
After high school graduation in 1975, she went to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, where she studied biology and zoology and was a member of the Delta Delta Delta Sorority. As part of her academic research, she went to Africa.
Her fascination with the continent was instilled by her mother, who loved Africa and had been there several times.
“Her mom liked the culture and the people. Robbie was more focused on the wildlife,” her husband said.
Chase worked summers at Wildlife Safari in Oregon, where she became park director with a specialty in breeding cheetahs.
She earned a bachelor’s degree and a teaching credential in 1979 and a month later was married to her high school sweetheart, Doug Chase.
For the next year, the couple volunteered in Jamaica with the Vesper Society, helping to provide medical care to the poor.
When they returned to the United States, they settled in Santa Rosa. Robbie Chase became a teacher at Petaluma Junior High School, where she taught for about eight years, and her husband began his dental practice.
Chase earned a pilot’s license, was active in PTA and Girl Scouts and was a team mom, helping out in youth sports and at the Rotary Club.
In 1993, Chase earned a master’s degree in computer science, which she used administrating the bookkeeping and payroll at her husband’s dental practice.
She also started the Montgomery High School Education Foundation, which helps teachers obtain supplies, from books to computers.
Coffey Park Chronicles
As part of an ongoing series, The Press Democrat is following the residents and recovery of Coffey Park, the Santa Rosa neighborhood destroyed by the Tubbs fire. Read all of the stories here.