points out that the foundation also sponsors workshops in the fine arts, the
performing arts and many other activities, aimed at both boys and girls.
"We give Sugar Ray T shirts to all boys and girls between 8 and 16 who
enter the program," says Zolkover. "We had 2,000 kids in our Sugar Ray
Olympics last August. We give rewards—trips to the zoo, trips to the sheriff's
Honor Rancho. We have Saturday morning programs now on the school grounds of 10
junior highs, others on weekday afternoons. We have volunteer teachers,
volunteer workers. Pretty soon we're going to have some volunteer cops, coming
down on off duty days into areas where a lot of cops don't like to go. They'll
learn something from these kids, you can be sure of that. And maybe the kids
will learn, too, that all cops aren't pigs."
forget," says Uncle Wright, "Ray is our team's halfback. He gets the
kids and he gets the big people with money to help. He is our charisma.
Wouldn't be anything without Ray." Sugar Ray says earnestly: "I'm a
Christian believer, and I truly believe all my life has been a preparation for
this. I believe I was blessed with a talent so I could get right here. I'll go
to my grave tryin' to help this cause." Then, with a slightly sheepish
grin, "Oh, I miss the spotlight, like last night, but I don't miss nothin'
else about those old days. This is the best time of my life."
o'clock Ray Robinson drives home in the foundation's Pinto station wagon—hear
that, Manhattan?—to pose for a photograph with Millie. There are no Cadillacs
or Continentals hidden in the apartment garage. "I don't miss them big
cars," he says. "Hell, I never had so much fun drivin' as with that
little old Pinto."
Millie Bruce and
Ray Robinson were married seven years ago in Las Vegas, after Ray's divorce
from Edna Mae Holly became final. Ray wore dark glasses and told the driver who
took them to the license bureau his name was Walker Smith Jr., which in truth
it is. When Robinson decided he wanted to be married in a church—and not by a
justice of the peace—the driver found them a marrying parson and stood up with
them. He signed the certificate with his true name: Benjamin Franklin. A little
later when Ray came back to Vegas to fight, Ray called the driver and said:
"I'm that fellow you helped get married three months ago, but my real name
is Sugar Ray Robinson. Want a ticket to the fight?" The driver said:
"Say, I thought you looked familiar. I'd like to see the fight, but I got
eight kids. Can you get me nine tickets?" Millie says Ray got them.
Ray sits beside
Millie on the handsome sofa in their buff and gold living room. As the camera
clicks they snuggle closer and suddenly lean together and kiss, unprompted by
the photographer. "I got to get back to the foundation," Ray finally
says. "You stay and see the apartment," Millie says to their visitors.
"I like to paint. Not paintings. The apartment. I painted my kitchen and
our bedroom and most everything here." It is a professional job—sunny
yellow kitchen, pale pink, white and gold master bedroom. There are still a lot
of suits in Ray's closet, but nowhere near a thousand.
is a blessed man," says Millie in a soft, lilting voice. "He's the most
compassionate man I ever met. This isn't fancy like New York, but it's full of
love. This whole corner is just full of love. I think Uncle Wright is the most
wonderful human being—he's second only to my baby. We are all blessed, and
every night and every morning Ray and I count our blessings." Does Millie
have help in caring for the apartment? "I don't need no help, don't want
any." she says. "I love to cook—soul. Mexican, French. Once in New York
I cooked a Mexican dinner for Elizabeth and Richard Burton. She liked it so
much she called the next day to see if there was any left! I sent some over to
her at the Regency.
everything. That's what I think a wife should do. I clean and I wash—I wash all
Ray's clothes. Let me tell you somethin'—if you have some other woman come in
to wash your husband's underwear, she's married to that man-not you!" The
only garish note in the apartment is supplied by Ray's trophies in the tiny
den, and Millie scarcely had an opportunity to select those. Standing amid the
plaques, statues and other blood-earned bric-a-brac. Millie says softly:
"Ray and I got pet names for each other—same one! We call each other
'Gump.' If I want to fetch him. know what I do? I yell 'Gump' and then"-she
slams a hand down on one of the cluttered shelves and the sharp, urgent note of
a boxing-ring bell echoes through the room. "Reckon he don't answer that
one?" she asks, eyes dancing.
gets an almost intoxicating impression of the Sugar Ray Youth Foundation, of
its earnest proprietors, of its "charisma" and his charismatic wife.
Can this really be a fountainhead from which rivers of love flow back and forth
along West Adams Boulevard and out into the dark corners of the vast community
that is Los Angeles? Tiny bells tinkle distant warnings. Is Mel Zolkover, for
instance, a dedicated do-gooder? (He has said he is budgeted for a salary, but
does not accept it; he has also said he plans to spend the holiday weekend
cruising on his 44-foot sloop.) Is Uncle Wright really preacherly orthodox, or
is he a canny old con man? Is he, for that matter, an uncle? And Sugar Ray
himself—can a man bitterly criticized by black militants in the late '50s and
'60s for his indifference to the racial struggle suddenly transform himself
into a symbol of hope and salvation?
And so the
checkups begin (if faith is the ticket to heaven, most journalists will see you
in hell). First, Bob Trainer, executive assistant in the City of Los Angeles
Social Service Department, which must study and approve all soliciting
organizations. "We think the foundation is absolutely O.K.," says
Trainer. "Their salaries and overhead are far lower than most similar
organizations. The money they get is being spent on the kids and on the
programs for the kids."
Next, United Way,
Inc., where Zolkover says he worked for two years before coming to Sugar Ray.
An official there says Zolkover is young and wealthy, honest and reputable.
Later Zolkover says: "I was in business with my father and by the time I
was 40 our investment interests, mostly in downtown real estate, provided me
with an income, so I really didn't have to do much of anything except sail my
boat and ride motorcycles. Then one day this girl said: 'You don't really
amount to much, do you?' and I thought that over and decided she was right. So
I went down to United Way for a couple of years and when I heard about this I
volunteered. Now I'm having the time of my life." A deputy in Los Angeles
Sheriff Peter Pitchess' office says: "We've checked out the foundation
carefully, and we are happy to offer Sugar Ray the use of the Honor