Honoring Bill Ross

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Local Democrats open headquarters

By John Barnhart

    Bedford’s Democrats opened their campaign headquarters on West Main Street last week.


    The opening was dedicated in memory of Bill Ross, who died on May 31 at the age of 89. Ross was a long-time party activist and Ann Duncan, speaking at the opening, credited him with revitalizing the local party after moving here in 1996.
    Bill Ross grew up in Roanoke and his wife, Julia, was from Big Island. After Bill retired from a career with IBM, the couple settled in Bedford.
    “After the shock wore off I thought, ‘Who is going to keep me on my toes?” Duncan commented.
    Duncan presented a proclamation from the Bedford Democratic Committee to Ross’ son, Vincent. The proclamation commended Bill Ross for his leadership roles with the NAACP, the Voters League and the Democratic Party.
    It  notes Ross’ service to the city of Bedford. Ross served on the Bedford City School Board from 1999 to 2011 and the city’s planning commission from 2000 to 2003. He served on the city’s electoral board from 2009 until his death. He also went to Bedford Elementary School to read to students. The proclamation concludes stating that “the Bedford Democratic Committee will continue the effort to provide readers to Bedford Elementary School, encouraging our members and community members to become Ross’ Readers.”
    Vincent Ross, Bill Ross’ son, was an only child.
    “I don’t know if I always got what I wanted, but  I got what I needed,” Vincent commented, discussing growing up with Bill Ross as a father.
    Vincent Ross grew up in Philadelphia, where his father worked for IBM.
    “Dad was always very political and community oriented,” he recalled.
    One of his earliest memories of his father’s community involvement came in the late 1960s when that city had a big gang problem.
    “He was very instrumental in getting the gangsters to sign a truce in Philadelphia,” Vincent said.
    Was this a risky thing to do?
    “No doubt,” Vincent replied .
    Bill Ross also worked with youth.
    “He helped form a youth group called Oak Lane Youth Association,” said Vincent.
    The association was a sports association for children ages 10 through 16 and they played games against other neighborhood groups.
    Along with all the major sports, they had tennis.
    “He brought tennis to Oak Lane,” Vincent said
    Bill Ross played tennis and taught it to the youth. He also acted as a mentor to them then, and stayed in contact with them over the years. One of them, Chris Womack, came to speak at Ross’ funeral. Womack is now an executive for Johnson & Johnson and is working on a PhD. When Bill Ross first met him, he wasn’t even thinking of college.
    “Dad looked out for a lot of people,” Vincent said.
    And, Bill Ross was very political.
    “The biggest thing for my father would be if Mr. Obama wins, if Mr. Douglass wins and Mr. Kaine wins,” Vincent Ross commented.
    Like his father, Vincent Ross has a successful career in business. He’s Monsanto’s regional manager for the northeastern United States.    
    General John Douglass, the Democrats’ candidate for Congress in the 5th Congressional District, was also at last week’s opening.    
    “This is such an important time for our country,” Douglass commented. “We are really at a tipping point right now.”
    Douglass said that the question is whether a wealthy few or all Americans benefit from this time of change.
    “I’m here to represent the families of Virginia,” he said, and promised not to vote a political party line.