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Grandmother who raised boxer Ronald 'Winky' Wright dies

ST. PETERSBURG — For his five world championship belts and the ability to wear them with humility, boxer Ronald "Winky" Wright credits his grandmother.

"She raised me, 100 percent. No doubt about that," said Wright, who can also thank Mary Dorsey for his nickname.

He introduced Mrs. Dorsey to some of the most famous sports figures in the world, including Muhammad Ali, Bernard Hopkins and Mike Tyson.

To each, he would say, "This is my mother."

Mrs. Dorsey, an innate caregiver who anchored her family through times of triumph and despair, died Nov. 3 of a respiratory illness at Bayfront Medical Center. She was 68.

Other fighters, such as women's boxing champion Laila Ali, visited her home.

Mrs. Dorsey took over the child-rearing duties from her 14-year-old daughter. She dubbed the infant "Winky" because he used to wink at people.

She influenced many others just as profoundly, serving up weekly Sunday dinners and laughter that drew any extended family member within driving distance.

Her neighbors were almost as lucky. Hungry? Just come on by. Need a babysitter? She watched the son of a single mother for the first 10 years of his life. Power company about to shut off your electricity? She would dig into her purse or make some phone calls.

"As we grew up, we had all the neighborhood kids at our house because that was the fun house," said Barbara Leonard, a daughter.

Mrs. Dorsey and her husband took their grandchildren fishing by the Treasure Island Causeway Bridge, showing them how to bait their hooks with live shrimp. She could wear flip-flops there, always an important criteria for a woman who liked to wiggle her toes.

She couldn't get enough of the wings at Cha Cha Coconuts, on top of the Pier. Or Marvin Gaye; or wearing her favorite red dresses; or playing the slots at the Hard Rock; or fish fries with cornbread and cabbage.

"She spoiled every one of her grandchildren," said niece Joyce Richardson. "She would feed them every time they came to the house. If you look at some of them you would say, 'Oh, yes, she did feed them.' "

Winky Wright returned the favor, spoiling his grandmother and many other family members with trips to his fights, ski vacations or gambling junkets to Las Vegas.

"She always told me to keep my head on straight," said Wright, 38, a former light middleweight champion and a current middleweight contender. "Don't get influenced by the money. Just be yourself. Treat people with respect and they will treat you with respect."

Mrs. Dorsey raised Wright alongside her son Byron "Weenie" Dorsey, (so named because he liked hot dogs), just two months Wright's senior. Byron Dorsey died in 1991, the accidental victim of a gang-related drive-by shooting. He did not belong to any gang, and had been on his way to a basketball game.

"She let us know that you can only take life one day at a time," said Barbara Leonard, 51. As her son's shooters were being tried, Mrs. Dorsey pleaded publicly for an end to guns and violence.

The daughter of a Cherokee Indian mother and an African-American father, Mrs. Dorsey grew up in Halifax, N.C., but moved to Washington, D.C., as a teenager.

She met and married Marshall Dorsey in the mid-1960s. Mrs. Dorsey worked for Ogden Food Service. The family moved to St. Petersburg in 1986, two years after her first heart attack.

Mrs. Dorsey never tired of greeting visitors to the house on Second Avenue S. But one visit decades ago will live forever in family lore: the time Mrs. Dorsey fell off the porch.

The way Wright tells it, Mrs. Dorsey was answering the door when she leaned over to try to fix a window on the outside of the house.

"The next thing we know," Wright said, "she was at the bottom of the bushes. Oh, my goodness. We couldn't even pick her up, we were laughing so hard."

Her health had declined since 2008, after a lung biopsy led to open-heart surgery. She breathed from bottled oxygen 15 hours a day.

Mrs. Dorsey had planned to go to Las Vegas early this month, a trip organized by Wright. Instead, she went to Bayfront Medical Center. She died Nov. 3.

"The last few days, she talked about how the Lord is her shepherd, and she did not want for anything," said Leonard.

She was buried in her favorite red dress.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Mary E. Dorsey

Born: July 5, 1942

Died: Nov. 3, 2010

Survivors: husband Marshall C. Dorsey; daughters Mary Blakely and her husband, Edward; Athena Nelson and her husband, Owen, and Barbara Leonard; sons Keith and Michael Taybron; sister Estelle Eatman; brother Robert Taylor and his wife, Anne; eight grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; many other extended family members.

Grandmother who raised boxer Ronald 'Winky' Wright dies 11/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 7:42am]
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