The Hellier, which Mr. Roberts bought in 1979 from a member of the Wurlitzer family in New York and sold in 1998 to collector Herbert Axelrod, was the jewel of his collection. During his career, Stradivari is believed to have built about 1,100 instruments, with only about a dozen of them embellished with intricate patterns of inlaid wood and other delicate accoutrements. Of the decorated instruments that exist today, the Hellier — named for the Englishman who is said to have bought the instrument from Stradivari’s workshop in the 1730s — is the best preserved, Smithsonian curators said.
When Mr. Roberts was preparing to move to Washington in 1980, Halegua proposed the Smithsonian as a temporary home for the collection. Mr. Roberts liked the idea, largely because he knew that at the Smithsonian, unlike at some museums, the instruments would be used for concerts and recordings.
Today the institution has — and routinely plays — five Stradivarius instruments, including a set of four donated by Axelrod in 1998. The collection also includes six instruments (one of them a donation from Mr. Roberts) built by Nicolo Amati, the reigning master before Stradivari, as well as a dozen instruments made by other important 17th- and 18th-century Italian craftsmen.
By playing such instruments, said Kenneth Slowik, the Smithsonian Chamber Music Society’s artistic director, “you can have a chance to hear being made real something that existed only in your imagination.”
Thomas Morgan Roberts was born April 14, 1937, in Memphis. A 1959 graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, he served in the Navy for three years before joining his father’s business. He became chief executive at 32.
In his second term on the NRC, several members of Congress called on Mr. Roberts to resign because of his alleged favoritism toward the nuclear power industry and “malfeasance” involving the leak of a government document to a Louisiana power plant.
Mr. Roberts denied any wrongdoing and insisted that as a commissioner he had voted his “mind and . . . principles,” and remained on the commission until the end of his term.
His first marriage, to Elizabeth Boyle, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 16 years, Eleanor Little Lombard Roberts of Washington; three daughters from his first marriage, André Roberts Koester of Bronxville, N.Y., Elizabeth Roberts Dalgard of Chevy Chase and Elinor Roberts of Brooklyn; two stepchildren, Laura Lombard of Brooklyn and John Lombard of Northampton, Mass.; a sister; and five grandchildren.
Despite his contributions to classical music, Mr. Roberts did not play the violin.
He tried to learn in retirement, but the lessons went so badly that he sheepishly refused to practice while his wife was at home.
At Mr. Roberts’s request, no eulogy was delivered at his funeral service. In fact, his name was mentioned only in passing.