RIP Bobby Foster: The Washington Post Still Hardly Knows You

By Jack Limpert

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Bobby Foster cooling off at Finley’s Garage in DC.

Bobby Foster, once the light-heavyweight boxing champion of the world, died a week ago in Albuquerque. He got a 500-word obit in today’s Washington Post but there was no mention of his colorful early life in Washington.

He would not have been surprised.

Here’s the opening of a 1969 Washingtonian story by Maury Povich, son of legendary Washington Post columnist Shirley Povich, then the sports director of WTTG-TV in Washington.
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In the twenty-foot square ring, it is not easy to get near Bobby Foster. The long left flicks out, like a black cobra, cutting and hurting and keeping enemies at a respectful distance. In the living room of his new $40,000 bi-level home, with his left hand resting on the arm of a new sofa, Bobby Foster still keeps you at a respectful distance. He is not an easy man to get to know.

The reasons why Bobby Foster, now the light-heavyweight champion  of the world, moved from Washington to Silver Spring tell you something about this quiet, leathery man. Although Silver Spring is just across the border from the District of Columbia, the move meant a lot to Foster. It spoke of money, which he now has, and hometown appreciation, which he thinks he will never get.

Money. Green power. Along with speed and a left hand that hurts like a right hand, money made Foster the champion he is. It took $100,000 to finally get a shot at the light-heavyweight title. Now Foster thinks money.

He is also fond of talking in terms of $100,000 or multiples thereof. “I have no fears,” he says, stretching out of his long arms. “See for yourself. What my wife wants she gets. I’m a champion.”

“Nobody ever gave me a dime before I was champ,” he adds.

And then there is the matter of hometown appreciation. “It’s not true I don’t like Washington,” he says. “It’s much better for my kids out here. The schools spend more time with them.”

Then unexpectedly, like the left hand, he lets the bitterness go. “Besides, the press never got in touch with me in the city. I should be in the newspapers every day.”

There is reason for Bobby Foster to be bitter. The Washington Touchdown Club annually honors the Redskins and Senators and even the ill-fated Washington Whips soccer team, but Foster has yet to step through its doors.

“I don’t have to  fight here in Washington any more,” Foster says. “Fifty thousand come to see the Redskins lose. Forty thousand watch the baseball team lose. I can’t draw five thousand for a fight against a contender. The press knocks me—my opponents are either too old or too small. I don’t need it.”

Boxing, unlike some other sports, is very much a personality game. The headlines come with the caricature of the fighter. Cassius Clay displayed his mouth. Floyd Patterson suffered publicly with his neuroses. Sonny Liston proffered an aura of terrorism. Foster must rely on his ability….
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The story goes on to describe Foster training at Finley’s Garage in Northeast DC. “It is typical boxing traditional, this gym. Dirty, musty, a makeshift ring. Alongside the posters of Holly Mimms and other Washington boxers, there are signs of caution: ‘Think fast, fight hard, and hit as often as you can.’ ‘Keep your cool and you won’t be a fool.’”

Povich pointed out the dangers of Foster putting on weight to fight heavyweights, where the big money was. At 173 pounds Foster was the light heavyweight champion but when he added weight to fight heavyweights “he was gassed by the fourth round.”

Foster came to Washington after he enlisted in the Air Force in 1957 and was sent to Bolling Air Force Base. He joined the boxing team and soon won a Gold Gloves title, followed by a trip and victory in the Pan-American Games.

Povich writes: “It was at that event that Bobby Foster had his first encounter with Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). ‘We were both training for the games, and they sent me in with Clay. He was receiving all the notice because of the heavyweight class and the mouth. I decked him, and he refused to get in the ring with me after that.’”

Povich ends the piece:

“He [Foster] loved the nightlife—the green suits and the blues music. He still frequents Washington nightclubs with his trumpet and small band, and he plans to continue to do so. ‘I do it to help my boys,’ he says, adding, ‘I take a couple of friends with me to protect me. I’m a champion. You walk into a club and some guy wants to square off to see how tough he is. It’s easy to get into trouble and hard to get out.’

“Now Foster stalks only at $100,000 and up. There are no more broken noses like in Albuquerque. The Air Force, the bomb factory, the cramped apartments are gone, replaced by credit cards and new furniture.

“‘I don’t feel any different,’ he says. ‘Only the bread is bigger.’”

RIP Bobby Foster, old Washingtonians like Maury Povich still remember you.

Comments

  1. Leonard Shapiro says

    Had the same thought when I read that wire service obit. This guy was a DC fighter. It’s what happens when you buy out your institutional memory.

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