March 31, 2009
By John W. Gearan
Holy Cross Magazine
He would get very anxious as track and field fans filled White Stadium in Franklin Park, the largest gem in Boston's famed Emerald Necklace of playgrounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
Frantically, Bobby Credle's eyes would scan the crowd moments before he would be summoned to the starting line. He would locate "The Rock" seated calmly in the grandstand.
"When I found my mother, I would settle down. I knew everything would fall into place,'' says Credle. His competitive juices would rise up, and, with the cracking sound of the starter's gun, he would be off, flying toward another victory.
Marguerite Credle Howard was indeed "The Rock" as she raised her brood of three boys and two girls in a three-decker at 39 Quincy Street in the Roxbury section of Boston. She served as a housekeeper to the well-off, cleaning suburban homes on her hands and knees.
"My mother was a single parent with five kids. She was the only person working. She never complained," says Credle. "She was working so many jobs, she didn't really have time to be a disciplinarian. She gave us love and support.''
There would always be food on the table. Her kids did their homework, went to church, used their God-given talents. She allowed them time to do their schoolwork, go to summer camps and participate in community center and church activities.
"I never had a job. I was always involved in something, CYO basketball, summer camps, running in every season. We never realized how much we were struggling financially until much later in our lives," Credle remembers.
Maguerite supported her kids, raising her family back in the days when Roxbury was predominantly white. "I was in kindergarten when we moved to Quincy Street. We were the second black family in our neighborhood," Credle recalls.
Along with "The Rock," there was another source of guidance for Bobby: a young, energetic parish priest.
Bobby attended St. John's/St. Hugh's, a combined Catholic church. There, the Rev. James Haddad took Bobby under his wing. Bobby converted to Catholicism as a teenager, he says, "because of Father Haddad's inspiration" and "because of Eva Redd, the girl I escorted to the CYO King and Queen Ball.''
Credle flourished at Boston Technical High School, excelling in college-prep courses. His track coach Joe Carey, a magnificent motivator with a commanding voice, developed Credle into a schoolboy sprint sensation.
Running in tight, squared spaces like the East Newton Street Armory, Credle smashed city indoor records in his specialty, the 600-yard run. Outdoors, he reigned as Boston's half-mile champ. His matchups with other schoolboy luminaries would be showcase events. In the city championships, coach Carey urged Credle to compete in the quarter-mile against a Rindge Tech whiz, Timmy Johnson. Trailing badly at the 220-yard mark, Credle kicked into high gear and caught Johnson at the finish, setting a meet record of 49.5 seconds.
Credle's reputation drew the attention of Boston College, which offered him a full scholarship, but without a room on campus. Credle knew he couldn't commute and study in an apartment cramped with his four siblings.
In junior high school, Credle had seen Holy Cross perform at White Stadium. "I hadn't been exposed to many college athletes," he says. "I was impressed. That registered with me. That's how Holy Cross got on my radar. That's how I became a fan of Holy Cross."
Enter Joe Reilly, a 1955 Holy Cross graduate who helped organize Boston CYO basketball leagues and who had befriended Credle. Reilly encouraged him to apply to Holy Cross.
"Father Haddad took me shopping, bought me a sport coat and a pair of pants," Credle remembers. "He drove me up to Holy Cross for an interview. My college boards were not great, but within an acceptable range. I had good grades at Boston Technical High. I was accepted and given a full scholarship."
In the fall of 1961, Bobby Credle and three other African-American freshmen, Harry Crawford from Kansas City, Harrison Baker from Detroit and Ray Moore from Louisiana -- as well as a young man from Nigeria named Chukwuemeka "Chris" Enu - arrived at an all-male, 99.9 percent white campus.
Baker and Moore left after the first semester, Crawford after three semesters. "They felt isolated,'' Credle recalls. Enu, the soccer team captain, and Credle became roommates as juniors; they were the only black students to graduate in 1965.
Credle, competing against better-prepared students from prep schools, stuggled his freshman year. Coming from a white neighborhood, he adjusted well.
"There wasn't much social life for anyone back then," he remembers. "It was more fellowship. I had a great relationship with the guys on campus.'' Any signs of racial prejudice? "Yes ... every student in the school knew my name. I'd walk by some guy and say `Hi,' and he'd say, `Hi, Bob,''' replies Credle, smiling at his rather wry observation.
Truth is Bobby Credle has always been an approachable, good-natured guy with a ready smile. He was well-known and admired by the student body because of his radiant personality and his prowess in track. As a senior he served as a resident assistant.
Not so instantly convinced of Credle's immense talent was Bart Sullivan, the legendary Holy Cross track coach. Credle's workouts were typically less than brilliant. Early on, the 80-year-old Sullivan came up to him after a particularly lousy workout and gruffly snapped, "Are you sure you're a runner?" Credle recoiled.
"I was crushed," he recalls. "Academically it was tough enough. Now I was in trouble in track. I knew I didn't practice well. Some people love to work out and can't compete. I was just the reverse.''
Credle soon opened Sullivan's eyes wide. In Holy Cross' first indoor meet, in the Boston Garden, Credle anchored the freshman one-mile relay. He spotted "The Rock" in the crowd sitting next to Father Haddad. He stood in the box awaiting the baton next to some guy from Yale. "I remember thinking, `I can beat this guy,'" he says.
About 25 yards behind when he grabbed the baton, Credle ran a blazing 49-second quarter, catching the Yalie at the finish, triumphantly. Coach Sullivan sidled up to Credle and said, "Oh my, you REALLY can run!"
Credle had a marvelous career, capped as the Crusaders co-captain with the amazing Kevin O'Brien. As a sophomore, Credle finished second in the half-mile as Holy Cross' seven-man team captured the New England Championship in Orono, Maine; as a junior, he finished second in the 600-yard run in the Indoor Nationals in Detroit. Credle won New England crowns in the half-mile as a junior and the quarter-mile as a senior. He loved running relays, Holy Cross' strong suit. Outdoors, at a Randall's Island meet, Credle streaked to a 47-second quarter-mile final leg.
As his victories piled up, so did his cumulative point average, rising from a 2.2 as a freshman to a 3.4 his junior year as an economics major.
In his career, Credle got out of the blocks quickly. He joined the New England Telephone Co. as a business office manager.
In 1969, Credle put his telephone company career on hold. He had a three-year dalliance with rock 'n' roll, taking a fling as a producer of concerts up and down the East Coast. He handled shows for the likes of James Taylor, Sly and the Family Stone, The Byrds, Ike and Tina Turner and the Allman Brothers Band. "We had staked a five-city tour for the Allman Brothers when Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971," Credle recollects. The financial setback caused Credle to head back to the world of telecommunications.
Credle handled various high-level jobs during his 31-year telephone industry career; he also became a corporate force in improving diversity and fairness in the workplace. In 1998, he retired as Verizon's director of corporate data services.
Since then, Credle has returned to his roots, focusing on his family, his community and his college.
Roxbury has changed dramatically since his youth; it is now 65 percent African-American and 25 percent Latino. Credle currently serves as director of community programs for Urban Edge, a nonprofit corporation helping folks ward off foreclosures and obtain affordable housing. Since the mid-1990s, Credle has immersed himself in YouthBuild Boston and YouthBuild USA programs, helping to direct at-risk youth to skillful employment.
At home, he maintains a close bond with his five daughters, his namesake son and his six grandchildren. He has handled bumps along the way. After a divorce, his second wife died of a heart attack 25 years ago at age 39. He is now engaged to Carol Murphy, his companion of 20 years and mother of his son, Robert.
At Holy Cross, Credle has been an active member of the General Alumni Association's board of directors. In the mid-1990s, his old friend Joe Reilly recruited Credle to serve on the Bishop Healy Committee, which promotes diversity and attracts ALANA (African-American, Latin American, Asian-American, Native American) students to Holy Cross. The Class of 2012 includes 21 percent ALANA students compared to 8 percent in the Class of 2001.
"Not only are recruitment numbers up, the retention rate is fantastic, and ALANA students are improving our standards in the same way enrolling women did four decades ago,'' notes Credle.
For his tireless efforts in encouraging multicultural harmony at his college and in his community, last year Credle was bestowed the GAA's most prestigious honor, the In Hoc Signo Award.
Not for a moment does Bob Credle forget those who gave him a head start back when he could run like the wind. After all these many years, he carries on his mother's legacy. He has become "The Rock." For his family, for his community and for his College. For those who need help and seek social justice, Credle is there to open a door.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.
John W. Gearan '65, was an award-winning reporter and columnist at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette for 36 years. He resides in Woonsocket, R.I., with his wife, Karen Maguire, and their daughter, Molly.