Jaromey Roy “Jay” Roberts, Sr., businessman, builder, and mortgage financier, son of Manda Ann (Blackshear) Roberts and A. B. Roberts, was born in Tamina, Texas, on May 1, 1913. He was the seventh of twelve children. When he was thirteen his family moved to Houston, Texas. He graduated from Phyllis Wheatley High School in 1929 and enrolled in Houston Colored Junior College (which evolved into present-day Texas Southern University) but dropped out after one year. Roberts took a job shining shoes in the barbershop at the segregated Rice Hotel in downtown Houston for four years. In 1934 he went back to college and this time enrolled in Texas College in Tyler, Texas. While a student at Texas College, he was one of the charter members of a chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. Roberts received a bachelor of science degree in chemistry with a minor in biology in 1938.
After graduating from college, he returned to Houston and began his first construction projects—four-unit apartments and duplexes for renting and selling in the Fifth Ward. He and his brothers Earl and A.B. established Roberts Brothers Realty Company. When building materials became scarce at the beginning of World War II, they opened Roberts Brothers Grocery Store. Jaromey Roberts was drafted into the U. S. Army in 1943 and served for the duration of the war. He achieved the rank of sergeant. Roberts studied law for one year at Texas Southern University School of Law from 1947 to 1948. He obtained certificates in business administration and accounting from La Salle University extension classes and nursing home administration from San Jacinto College.
A year after being honorably discharged from the army, Roberts began purchasing property in the Sunnyside area of Houston. In 1947 he opened his firm, Jay’s Lumber and Building Company, which was incorporated in 1955. Jay’s Lumber and Building provided general contracting services and sold retail building materials. Jay’s built countless residential homes, professional office buildings, churches, and apartments. Recognizing the challenges of the African American community to get financing, he soon created Jay’s Mortgage and Finance Company, Inc., in which he served as chairman of the board and president. The company serviced Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration loans.
In 1952 Roberts built his own dream home—a 3,500-square-foot two-story home in East Sunnyside Court of Southland Acres in Houston. The house included modern features: central air and heat, a master bedroom suite, a spacious wet bar which opened into a den and enclosed patio, laundry room, double car attached garage, and other amenities. Jaromey Roberts married Mary Louise Brown, an elementary school teacher, on January 21, 1956. They had two children—Jarmese Lala and Jaromey II. Due to segregation, his wife frequently hosted lunches, dinners, and receptions for local and out-of-town business associates. She served on the board of directors of all of their companies.
In the late 1950s Jay’s Mortgage and Finance Company purchased 412 acres of land on Texas Highway 73 where they developed the subdivision Lakeside Park in Port Arthur, Texas. The original brochure designed by Jay’s Mortgage and Finance Company described the Lakeside Park development as featuring “6 Model Homes, 600 Homesites” with modern amenities, as one of the newest “exclusive Negro housing developments.” The subdivision, which was under construction when Hurricane Carla hit Port Arthur in 1961, was devastated from indirect flood water from a flood gate opened behind the subdivision. Roberts built several F.H.A. and G.I. homes and a funeral home for clients in Conroe, Texas, in the late 1960s.
From land that he owned, Roberts dedicated Jarmese Street, which was named after his daughter Jarmese in 1962. He planned and built a ninety-six-unit garden style apartment complex on Jarmese Street and named the two and three-bedroom apartment complex, Jarmese Villa Apartments. Adjacent to the apartments, he built a washateria and grocery store for the convenience of the tenants. He also built another twenty-four-unit multi-family apartment complex in Conroe and a washateria strip center on Denmark Street in Trinity Gardens in Houston.
Also in the 1960s Roberts with his brother Earl Roberts and William Samuel, purchased a thirty-eight-bed nursing home in the Kashmere Gardens area in northeast Houston. His company, Jay’s Lumber and Building Company, remodeled and enlarged the building to a modern sixty-patient-capacity facility, which they named Silver Threads Nursing Home. Roberts served as the first nursing home administrator of the facility; he sold his interest in Silver Threads in 1969.
Jay’s Lumber and Building Company’s commercial projects included the Judson Robinson & Sons Building, Dr. Zeb F. Poindexter, Jr. Office Building, and Cullen Medical Plaza. He also arranged financing to build the African American Cameron Iron Workers’ Social and Charity Club.
In 1970 Roberts planned and built a modern 100-patient-capacity, F.H.A.-insured convalescent home, Manda Ann Convalescent Home, Incorporated, in southeast Houston. He and his wife opened Manda Ann Convalescent Home (named for his mother) in 1971, and it operated until 2014. The physical plant consisted of 32,432 square feet designed with a large outdoor courtyard in the center of the building. His wife served as president of the board and owned a 45 percent interest. Roberts served as the licensed nursing home administrator from 1971 to 1981, when his daughter Jarmese succeeded him as administrator. In 1985 the company acquired a 116-patient-capacity convalescent home in north Houston. They operated the second facility from 1985 to 1992. After the birth of his first granddaughter, he created Lalla Investments, Inc., named after Lalla Victoria Morris. Lalla Investments purchased a 120-patient-capacity long-term care facility in east Austin, Texas, and operated it from 1987 to 1997.
In later years, Roberts served as senior consultant to the family businesses. He also served as consultant to Amenity Plus Homes, Incorporated, and Modern Tradition Management, which were partnerships between his wife, daughter, and son. Roberts was an active member of Mount Vernon United Methodist Church for seventy-eight years and served as past chairman of the administrative board, trustee board, and finance committee, and was a member of the Golden Nuggets. Roberts held memberships in the Houston Home Builders Association, Houston Real Estate Association, Negro Chamber of Commerce, Texas College Alumni Club, NAACP, and the East Sunnyside Court Civic Club. Jaromey Roy Roberts, Sr., died on July 21, 2004, at the age of ninety-one in Houston. He was buried in Paradise South Cemetery in Pearland, Texas.