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Educating Willie
Gary Smith
December 27, 1993
Willie Roaf's mother wanted him to be a star student, but instead he became a star athlete.
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December 27, 1993

Educating Willie

Willie Roaf's mother wanted him to be a star student, but instead he became a star athlete.

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"I was naive," says Andree Roaf. It's cool outside, a late-October night in Arkansas. She's barefoot, age 52, an attorney-at-law. She puffs on her cigar and regards the plume of smoke. "I assumed," she says. "I assumed my child would be like me."

She rises wearily. She carries a book with her. She always does. Tonight it's The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand. She walks to the framed photographs that cover the top of the piano. Heads. Suits. Ties. Smiles. They are the prologue to her tale. They must be revealed first.

She points to her grandfather, who won a scholarship to Yale in the early 1900s, graduated and became a teacher and the executive director of the Norfolk, Va., YMCA. Then to her other grandfather, a college graduate, superintendent of a school for orphans and wayward children.

There's her mother, Phoebe. Top five in her high school class, scholarship to Talladega (Ala.) College, honors graduate, master's degree from Michigan State.

And her father, William: master's degree from Fisk, diresctor of equal employment opportunity for the Federal Reserve System, local executive director in the Urban League, poet, thespian, community leader.

Here's her sister Mary. Honor student, master's degree from New York University, former assistant postmaster general, now director of communications for the Child Welfare League of America. Next, her late sister Serena, honor student, Michigan State grad, clarinet player, advertising copywriter.

Over here is Andree's husband, Cliff, co-valedictorian of his high school class, degree in dentistry from Howard, member of the school board in Pine Bluff, Ark., for 21 years and the Arkansas State Board of Higher Education for 15.

Next to him there's Andree herself: honor student, Michigan State grad, law review, second in her law class at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, with a 3.78 grade point average, partner in a law firm.

Look, there's Andree's oldest child, Phoebe. Presidential scholar, cum laude graduate of Harvard, master's degree from Princeton, research officer for a nonprofit organization designing programs for disadvantaged youths. And Andree's second child, Mary: honor student, winner of two state oratory contests, graduate of Georgetown, seventh-grade teacher at an inner-city school in Washington, D.C.

And then...then there's Andree's third child, Willie. She sighs. "I had to learn to accept him," she says. "How? I just gave up, that's how. I mean, I loved him, always loved him. But I still don't totally respect what he does as a way to make a living. I guess there are some people you just have to understand...you just have to tolerate...."

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