Monday, January 24, 2011

Eddie Roberts 1946-2011 RIP

Eddie fighting ninth ranked middleweight Willie Taylor at Civic Auditorium in 1979.

Eddie died over the weekend when he was hit by a car in Surgoinsville. I wrote a column about his inspirational life in 2006 on the occasion of his 60th birthday party.

Eddie Roberts surveyed the crowd gathered in Club Room 1 at the Civic Auditorium last Friday night to help him celebrate his 60th birthday. There were his old buddies from the Robert E. Lee Apartments. There was his daughter and her family, his sisters, a brother-in-law, 70 people all total.

No, he said as he scanned the group, there was nobody in attendance that he had fought…in the ring. “There’s lots here that I fought in the back alley.”

Eddie Roberts was a fighter, both in the ring and out. He grew up on the mean streets and back alleys around the Robert E. Lee Apartments, where fighting came naturally. So naturally that he turned it into a hobby - three times he won the Southern Golden Gloves championship - and then a profession - he fought 20 professional bouts, including his most famous fight, across the hall in the Civic Auditorium’s main auditorium. That was in 1979 when he dueled the ninth-ranked middleweight in the world, Willie Taylor, for twelve rounds, losing on points in a hard-fought match. Eddie had a career professional record of 14-5 with one draw, all his fights against legitimate opponents, no “tomato cans.” “I didn’t pad my record.”
He came out of retirement at age 39 - “I said I was 39; I was really 48” - to knock out a fighter half his age before retiring again.

But the toughest fight of his life may have been fighting his way out of public housing.

And that’s why these friends and family were gathered around pots of soup beans and plates of cornbread. To celebrate a life well lived.

After watching a video about Eddie, one by one his old friends stood up to toast him.

Earl Carter jokingly took credit for launching Eddie’s boxing career. “I was one of his early victories.”

Bill Hargrove talked about their shared tough childhoods. “Growing up in Lee Apartments we didn’t have much. But we had heroes. When he started boxing, half us in Lee Apartments wanted to box to be like Eddie.”

Earl seconded that idea of the family of Lee Apartments. “We had a bond you can’t understand unless you lived there. We went out in the world and when anyone succeeded, we all swelled up with pride.”

In turn the other middle-aged men stood and talked about Eddie the role model: older brother to every fatherless kid in Lee Apartments, then Eddie the boxer, the college graduate, the teacher, the coach, the Boys Club volunteer.

Eddie put himself through college then taught at Church Hill High School and Cedar Grove Elementary, working with boys from circumstances much like his own. “Eddie’s the one who taught me to give back,” said Wayne Taylor, who volunteered at Boys Club with Eddie. Wayne wanted the crowd to know something else about Eddie. “Something that hasn’t been discussed, Eddie’s other side. Eddie is a poet, a songwriter, a Civil War buff, a guitar teacher; he’s just a universal man. He went back at 50 and got his Masters. I remember he said Grandma Moses didn’t start painting till she was 80.”

Eddie took no credit himself, instead crediting his family and friends and his late trainer Jackie Wilson, a one-time athlete at Ketron High School, who trained out of a wheel chair after a car accident left him crippled.

Eddie didn’t express bitterness about the Willie Taylor fight, which many in attendance thought should have gone to Eddie. A win over a ranked contender would have put Eddie on the map in the middleweight division. And he almost won with a crunching body shot - Eddie calls it the hardest punch he ever threw - that lifted Taylor on his toes and sent him reeling. “But the ropes caught him.” One judge scored the bout for Eddie, but the other two voted for Taylor. Eddie says modestly, “It wasn’t to be.”

The keynote of the 60th birthday celebration was a letter that daughter Carol Roller wrote and read. She spoke about Eddie not as a boxer but as a father, a dad who taught her the lesson he had learned on the mean streets and in the ring.
“He taught me that we all get knocked down but we get back up.”


At 8:13 PM, Blogger Ernie said...

Vince thank you so much for posting about Eddie. I was introduced to Eddie when I was a kid by father Ernie Ensor, also a former kingsport fighter. I boxed for Eddie when I was 17 and we trained @ cloud community center. I could tell so many stories about Eddie, Jackie Wilson, bobby youngblood, etc. My dad and Eddie were good friends and grew up together and my dad and I both thought a lot of him. It saddest me to see another one of kingsports legends gone. In my opinion they are just as important to this town as john b and j fred. Anyhow thanks again and salute to another kingsport legend, you'll not be forgotten

At 9:49 AM, Anonymous BILL GREENE said...

i was frieds we ernie and eddie.I miss them I miss boys club days also.

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous Elizabeth Bell said...

Vince.What a great write up about *Eddie*.I have known *Eddie* all my life.He along with all the boy's were fixtures at my fathers store.(BELL'S FRUIT AND NEW'S)on the corner of Sullivan st. and (CORNER MARKET) Millpond St.Out from the (BOY'S CLUB).My father the late Harold George Bell Sr. Loved *Eddie* as a son.He alway's said *Eddie* was a "Live Wire"!"He is a good kid and will stay that way as long as he listens".As a little girl growing up i remember *Eddie* calling my father DAD!They would laugh and laugh,then he would have my father in a headlock.,*Eddie*would ask him advice about everything under the sun.Then go to the coke case get him a drink and whatever he wanted to eat ,ask my father for some pocket money, and say."I lOVE YOU DAD,THANKS-BYE".. He did that from childhood,until my father passed away in 1997.*Eddie* said "i'm still a kid"! "and he was making sure Dad still loved him". *Eddie* alway's made it known my father helped HIM alot and the rest of the boy's."He's kept me from going hungry many times".They both were crazy about boxing.If *Eddie* would have a rough round or a loss,my father would go crazy..*Eddie* would come and tell him."Now Dad ,Don't Be Mad At Me".."I Have To Have A Loss Once In A While, Or Word Will Get Out I'm Good"!Kids are kids but they never caused any problems around the store or for my father."Eddie" was having a match at he Fort Henry Mall one evening.When it was new.So he told me to be there he needed my help.I was hired!LOL. I went he was jumping around getting warmed up.He say's "Dad's daughter,Harold Bell'S daughter"!"Your in charge of my Gloves"!"You help me put them on and tie them and keep them tied,and fix my tape to!" I did.He said, "I trust you we are family, "!"tie them good because if not they will come off and i will be in a big mess"!God Bless You *Eddie*.Thank you for all the memories.We Love You.The Bell Family..Rosemary,Harold.George.Jr.,Elizabeth.Thank You Vince Staten..


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