Preston Roberts is a name that had been occasionally popping up across media outlets ever since the inaugural airing of History Channel’s one-of-a-kind reality TV series entitled “Mountain Men.” He joined the show alongside Eustace Conway, the initial protagonist around whom the show was written.

While not one of the main characters in his own right, Preston most definitely held his own among the cast. His selfless nature and willingness to go the extra mile so as to aid those in need and educate the youth was greatly appreciated by the series’ worldwide audiences, which quickly made him a notable part of the title.

Most of the viewers were glad to see Roberts move around the set whenever he had the chance to, sharing valuable knowledge and skills with both his students and the fans. His presence on the screen was characterized as benign and always welcome, owing to the wealth of information about anything survival-related that he possessed.

It was thus a heavy blow for everyone involved to find out that Preston was no longer among the living, as he had passed away from severe complications of a liver tumor, only three weeks after having received the diagnosis. Most fans were stunned to hear of the tragedy, as the entire ordeal went down way too quickly for them to process.

This left the audience with many more questions than answers, as Roberts looked relatively healthy only days prior to visiting the hospital. His family, friends and fans hoped for a quick recovery from something that looked not as serious as it turned out to be, and they are still left wondering how a tumor can take someone away so quickly.

Who really was Preston Roberts?

Born on 17 July 1957, in Westfield, New Jersey USA, and having moved shortly thereafter to Brevard, North Carolina, Preston James Roberts began his journey to eventual fame in a quiet town nestled within the Appalachian Mountains, developing an early affinity for the outdoors throughout the rugged terrain he was surrounded by.

Preston’s formative years were thus shaped by the natural beauty and challenges of the region, igniting a lifelong fascination with the wilderness. His upbringing instilled in him a deep appreciation for self-sufficiency and resourcefulness – values that would become hallmarks of his character.

From a young age he tried his hardest to sate an inner curiosity about the natural world, exploring the woods, creeks and hills of his surroundings, eagerly absorbing the knowledge passed down by his family and community. These early adventures laid the foundation for his future endeavors, sparking an interest in traditional skills and survival techniques.

The future star’s passion for the outdoors intensified as he progressed through his teenage years, having immersed himself in activities that would later become integral to his identity. Hunting, fishing and camping were not only pastimes but essential aspects of his life. These pursuits honed his skills in tracking, foraging and adapting to the ever-changing elements of the wilderness.

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Preston did relatively well throughout high school, moving out of his parents’ house following matriculation, and settling in his birth state’s Wilkes County so as to attend the Atlantic Christian College, which is a liberal arts educational institution.

This academic goal might seem at odds with his later life as a woodsman, but it was during this period that he cultivated a deep appreciation for critical thinking, reflection, and the true value of nature.

His art studies would later inform his approach to survival and his understanding of the natural world, which was evident throughout the way he spoke to his students over the years. This key difference would always make Preston stand out thereafter, which ultimately also helped him become a fan favorite.

He later went on to obtain a degree in art education from the Appalachian State University, which let him immediately start teaching the subject. The future star took to this job so seriously that he stayed an art teacher at Wilkes County School for over 25 years, from 1979 to 2004, having won the Teacher of the Year award twice during his time there.

Lifelong connections

It didn’t take long for Roberts to find his two most important people after he finished high school – Eustace Conway, his best friend, and Kathleen DuPont McGuire, his soulmate. The star married Kathleen in 1975, with whom he had three sons – James Preston Roberts, Travis Lee Roberts, and Joseph James Roberts.

As for Conway, Preston became involved in various endeavors with his best friend, which ultimately furthered both of their careers. They initially engaged in mutually enjoyable activities, such as horseback riding through the woods and long hunting trips. The survivalists eventually got around to sharing various business ideas, and settled on two that would change their lives forever.

The first requires no introduction, as the success and audience reach of History Channel’s “Mountain Men” is still in a period of constant growth. Filming the lifestyle for TV was envisioned by Preston and Eustace during one of their many business conversations, so they are both to thank for the creation of this title.

The second was the founding of the Turtle Island Preserve – a remote hidden valley retreat in the thick woods of Boone, North Carolina. It’s maintained in the style of an old-fashioned farm and nature sanctuary, which offers its goers various activities, such as summer camps, workshops, and wilderness tours.

It was primarily Conway’s dream to create something of the sort, as his maternal grandparents themselves had been proud owners of a certain Camp Sequoyah since 1924, which served to connect the youth and more urban folk with their ancestral heritage. It’s registered as a non-profit education center for all ages to come together and celebrate the sanctity of nature.

The preserve’s instructors and staff are all intimately familiar with remote living, and have a wealth of knowledge to impart to anyone looking for a simpler lifestyle. Preston was undeniably one of the most influential teachers on the grounds, having been a dear favorite of most students, especially those on the younger side.

What it’s all about

The spirit of the Turtle Island Preserve and what it truly stands for became evident in a video uploaded on 19 April 2017, entitled “An Interview With Preston Roberts – Katelyn Wilder.” Preston introduced himself as someone who had spent a significant portion of his adult life in the woods, engaging in various activities related to his affiliation with the preserve.

Roberts reflected on his earliest memory of building a shelter at the age of four using cardboard boxes, an old army blanket, and rocks in his backyard. He recalled sleeping in the makeshift shelter overnight, underscoring the independence and determination he displayed even at that young age.

Throughout the interview, he emphasized unwavering commitment to living a simple, primitive lifestyle that included using outhouses, heating with firewood, and incorporating nature-based practices into modern contexts. He discussed his experiences of living in makeshift shelters, including a teepee for a year and a half, and how he and his family embraced outdoor camping in numerous locations.

The TV star drew inspiration from Native American communities, with which he interacted extensively across the country. He valued their ancestral wisdom and practices, often looking to their historical ways of life for guidance in his own endeavors, thereby also admiring the mountain people’s close-knit families, oral traditions, self-sufficiency in food processing, and sustainable lifestyle practices.

He focused on practicality and efficiency with regards to primitive shelters, as he believed in utilizing natural materials available in a particular location, whether it was trees, rocks, or other elements. He prioritized functionality over form, citing that a shelter’s design should cater to its immediate survival requirements. His ultimate goal was to maximize the surrounding resources while taking into consideration elements like water flow and the benefits of fire for warmth.

Preston expressed a deep connection to the structures he built, particularly those at Turtle Island Preserve. He valued the hands-on approach of constructing shelters and materials, which created a personal relationship with the structures themselves. He also mentioned that this is in stark contrast with modern buildings, which lack the same sense of connection and personal investment.

Roberts humbly downplayed the label when asked about being referred to as a ‘master’ in various skills, preferring to be known as an accomplished knife maker and a dedicated teacher. He believed in being proficient in a range of skills rather than mastering just one, having found fulfilment in sharing his knowledge and encouraging others to learn practical skills, and adopt environmentally conscious lifestyles.

The lifelong teacher concluded by expressing his hope that people could learn from his experiences and recognize the simplicity of the steps he took. He believed that deliberate consciousness about how we lived and interacted with the world could lead to a wholesome, balanced life that integrated traditional wisdom into modern existence, without sacrificing the utility of modern-age availabilities.

So, what is the truth behind his death?

Preston’s sudden demise a mere three weeks after receiving a diagnosis of a liver tumor, although quite tragic in its nature, is also not uncharacteristic of the illness he suffered from. While specific details of his case remain limited, the rapid progression of the disease leading to his quick passing can be attributed to various factors.

Liver tumors encompass a spectrum of conditions, spanning from benign growths to malignant formations which, like hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), are particularly aggressive and capable of advancing swiftly. These often remain latent until they attain an advanced stage, complicating their early detection. Depending on the growth’s location, size and age, its potential aggression can engender swift health deterioration.

The liver’s pivotal role in detoxification, metabolism and protein synthesis is undeniable, and when a tumor emerges in its tissue, it can disrupt these functions and destabilize the organ’s equilibrium. Depending on its location and dimensions, it might hinder hepatic blood flow and impede the organ’s essential tasks.

In Preston’s situation, the tumor’s unforgiving nature might have expedited the ensuing total organ failure by quickly infiltrating neighboring tissues, including blood vessels and adjacent organs. If sizable or situated in a critical area, the growth can also undermine hepatic function, sparking a chain reaction of severe health challenges.

Furthermore, liver tumors possess the ability to metastasize, spreading to distant parts of the body. This evolution of the condition can prompt rapid symptom onset in remote organs, hastening the health deterioration process. Given the liver’s central role in overall bodily operation, any disruptions by the tumor could have provoked multi-organ system failures.

Such growths regrettably tend to progress without raising much of an alarm, evading timely detection and diagnosis. By the time symptoms manifest or the tumor is detected, it may have already reached an advanced phase, beyond which most efforts to reverse its progression would prove futile. Late diagnoses such as the one in Preston’s case can restrict treatment alternatives, and diminish the likelihood of effective intervention.

Ultimately it was the combination of an aggressive liver tumor, its swift growth, potential interference with critical hepatic functions, and subsequent repercussions on other organ systems that had culminated in Roberts’ abrupt and unforeseen passing.

Known for his refusal to indulge in modern, urban living, it’s believed that Preston didn’t think much of his initial visit to the hospital, and that he had returned to living remotely without great concern for his own well-being.

The aftermath

A GoFundMe page was created by Eustace soon after Preston’s passing, which was then used to gather resources that would help the Roberts family cope with their loss as well as possible. There was a significant outstanding sum from the hospital bill to cover, aside from the obligatory funeral and memorial service costs.

Finally, their home’s roof had certain issues that were being fixed by Preston himself shortly before death, and his loved ones ended up requiring professional services to finally resolve them. These three reasons combined into an asking sum of $25,000, but both Conway and the Robertses were surprised by how much the campaign would pull in over the subsequent months.

Excluding the checks written to Kathleen off the website, the info for which was also provided in the campaign, the fans joined up and donated over $115,000 to the grieving family – almost five times the asked amount.

Turtle Island Preserve also came up with its own way of honoring the man with an immortal legacy, having created the Preston Roberts Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was also largely dependent on loving fan donations. It will be used to further the education of many more youths who visit their grounds, which is exactly what the wilderness veteran would have wanted, having shown countless teenagers survivalist ropes himself.

RIP Preston Roberts.

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