Cecil was the 9th of 10 children. Her family moved to New Jersey when she was nine years old. She became a fashion consultant in New York City. She moved to Birmingham after marrying coal magnate David Roberts III in 1943.
Roberts helped organize the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Birmingham Civic Theater, and served as president during its years as the UAB Town & Gown Theater. She co-founded the Alabama State Council on the Arts with James Hatcher in 1966 and served as chairwoman in 1971. She also served as president of the Birmingham Music Club and as co-founder of the Birmingham Festival of Arts and the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Her efforts did not stop with artistic causes, and she was also known for her work on behalf of the March of Dimes, the Neighborhood House Day Nursery, Children's Hospital, Planned Parenthood of Alabama, and Birmingham AIDS Outreach.
Roberts was known for her dogged pursuit of funding for cultural endeavors, and reportedly had an inability to hear the word "no." She was impatient with slow-acting organizations and was quoted in People magazine as saying that, "My plan for getting things done is to have a committee of three, with two of them absent." She was also an avid reader of The New York Times and frequently corralled Times journalists to report on events in Alabama.
It was Roberts' initiative that resulted in Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" holding its premier performance at the BJCC Theater in 1975. It was her idea to commission a sculptural fountain for Five Points South and she commissioned the design for what became the Storyteller fountain from Frank Fleming.
She also was an activist for racial integration and voting rights. She was the first white person to serve on the board of trustees of Miles College. She and her husband escorted John and Ethel Nixon to the symphony's first integrated performance at Municipal Auditorium in 1964. Later she invited diplomat and Nobel Prize laureate Ralph Bunche to speak at the Mountain Brook Club.
Roberts died in 1990 from an embolism. Her funeral was held at the Cathedral Church of the Advent and she was buried at Elmwood Cemetery. She was survived by her husband, two sons, and two grandchildren.
- Villet, Grey (December 28, 1959) "Up to Her Ears in Good Works"
- Leviton, Joyce (July 14, 1975) "The Great Play Robbery or How Cecil Roberts Got a Premiere for Birmingham" People Vol. 4, No. 2
- "Cecil J. Roberts, 76, Alabama Arts Patron" obituary (May 30, 1990) The New York Times
- Katopodis, John (April 24, 2015) "Cecil Roberts and the Statue from Hell." The Path Well Traveled weblog