The Florida A&M University (FAMU) community is mourning the loss of former journalism professor and athletics director Roosevelt Wilson, who passed away on Sunday, October 21. He was 78 years old.
Wilson was known among the FAMU community as a “fair and principled” man, profound teacher, mentor, businessman, administrator and writer, whose command of the English language and principles of journalism was admired nationally, especially among the Black Press.
“I extend condolences to Professor Wilson’s family, loved ones and many friends,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “He devoted himself to telling the stories of great Rattlers, and he will be included among those great Rattlers.”
President Robinson reflected on Wilson’s chronicles and was among the well-wishers, who gathered in January, to celebrate the release of Wilson’s biography of FAMU’s legendary coach, Jake Gaither.
“I am grateful for his commitment to FAMU, the Big Bend area and the countless students who benefitted from his exemplary work,” said Robinson.
A native of Bunnell, Florida, Wilson came to FAMU in 1969 as the director of Sports Information, following a lengthy stint as a high school English teacher, service station owner and sports writer in Ocala, Florida.
“Prof. Wilson,” as he became known later to his journalism students at FAMU, moved from FAMU Athletics’ Sports Information Department to director of University Publications in 1979, before returning to Athletics in the summer of 1980 as director of Athletics under then-president Walter L. Smith, Jr., Ph.D.
He left that role in 1985, moving to the former FAMU School of Journalism, Media and Graphic Arts (now the FAMU School of Journalism & Graphic Communication), where he became one of the department’s most popular instructors. He was known for being tough, yet fair while serving as an inspiration to many future journalists.
His family’s acquisition of the Capital Outlook weekly newspaper, in 1991, provided many of his students with excellent work experience, and his visionary leadership turned the paper into an award-winning publication, which provided incisive political and social commentary during his years as publisher.
“For so many decades, ‘Prof.’ was the conscience of this community. He had an incredible ability to reshape your thinking toward the greater good,” said former student and close family friend Yanela McLeod, who went on to become editor of the Capital Outlook under his leadership. “The world was a better place because he was in it. ‘Prof.’ had a legendary mind, a legendary pen and a legendary heart. His fairness and humility made him respected and loved by so many. His legacy lives on through the thousands of students he challenged with excellence and the countless number of people he made think. He was a special blessing gifted by God.”
In the fall of 1999, FAMU honored him for his years of service to the University’s storied Athletics program by enshrining him into its Sports Hall of Fame.
“Roosevelt was many things to me: A mentor, a father figure and a true friend,” said Alvin Hollins, chair of the FAMU Sports Hall of Fame and assistant director of Sports Information. “He taught me the fine points of being a professional in athletic communications, and when he took on the role of athletic director, I saw a great measure of wisdom, strength and a vision for the department, that inspired all who worked with him. Above all, he cared deeply for the people around him, a trait that endeared many to him. I will miss him.”
Beyond the thousands of people Wilson touched in the Big Bend area, Wilson’s words inspired many through his “Against The Grain” weekly column. For decades, it served as preferred reading for many across the social and political spectrum in Florida’s capital city, as he often tackled the burning issues of the day both locally and nationally.
His rare insight, intellect, and wit took the “Against The Grain” column to radio, where he was able to share his views with a wider audience, as well as interact with listeners for several years.
Wilson eventually sold the Outlook in 2009-10, moving into many years of fruitful retirement along with his wife, and best friend Cather C. “Cathy” Wilson.
The two were blessed with three children, sons Van and Vaughn, and daughter Tiffany, and six grandchildren.
Funeral services for “Prof.” Wilson will be held on Monday, October 29, at 11 a.m., at the Old West Florida Enrichment Center, located at 2344 Lake Bradford Road in Tallahassee, Florida.