The Daily Southerner
If you talk about the College Roundup, the first name that probably would come to mind to anyone who is familiar with the annual function will be Robert “Bobby” Whitehead – the founder of the event that brings hundreds of high schools students together in search of colleges.
Whitehead died Thursday at Vidant Edgecombe Hospital after a lingering illness. He was 73 years old.
In 2002, Whitehead, along with his cousin, Fay Smith, started the College Roundup in Tarboro. College Roundup is an annual event where students can gather and apply for college admission or obtain information institutions of higher learning. Some students were offered scholarships the same day of the event.
Whitehead was residing in Atlanta during the early years of the event. The first year, a meager 200 students attended the event, which was held in the Tarboro High School gymnasium. Although he was disappointed, Whitehead was not deterred. A few years later, the attendance grew so large that the event was moved to Edgecombe Community College's Keihin Auditorium.
Because of Whitehead's persistence to help underprivileged students receive opportunities for a post-secondary education, the number of students attending the event rose well over 1,000 in subsequent years.
Whitehead used notable names such TV stars Clifton Davis and Kim Coles and TV Judge Glenda Hatchell as keynote speakers to attract students and colleges. Busloads of students from as far away as Pennsylvania attended the event over the years.
Smith said more than 2,000 students have attended college through the assistance of College Roundup.
Although Whitehead's health began to fail in the last few years, it didn’t keep him from attending the annual event.
“This was something that he was so passionate about,” Smith said. “This was like a one-man mission – this was his vision. He has touched so many young people's lives.”
Whitehead graduated from Patillo High School in 1959. After high school, he attended Lane College, Kittrell College, Fayetteville State University, Georgetown University, and also Clark Atlanta University, where he made his home before returning to Tarboro.
In Atlanta, Whitehead was a school teacher and owned a florist shop. He retired in 2007 and returned home to Tarboro, where he quickly became an advocate for students who were seeking a higher education.
He also became concerned about the Edgecombe County’s seniors and homeless. In 2007, he was instrumental in starting the community wide Thanksgiving Celebration that fed hundreds of people. The event fizzled out after two years when Whitehead’s health began to fail and no one was willing to take over the project.
Although he was struggling physically, his heart was still on helping students. As a resident of Golden Living (assisted living facility) he was asking about organizing an operation that would provide toothpaste and coats for the underprivileged students.
“That’s how Bob was all the way to the end,” Smith said. “He was a unique individual who touched so many lives. He will be missed dearly.”
Community Enrichment Organization Director Doris Stith also said she will miss Whitehead.
“Bobby was a trailblazer that just didn’t talk about doing things, he made them happen,” she said. “Because of him, there will always be a College Roundup.”
Tarboro Mayor Donald Morris also spoke highly of Whitehead.
“Bob was a man who was very interested in the youth of Edgecombe County and the surrounding areas,” he said. “He was a man that I greatly admired.”
Until his death, Smith said Whitehead didn’t complain about his health issues but often said, “I’m thankful because there are a lot of people in worse shape than I am. When asked, ‘How are you doing,’ his favorite line was, ‘I’m tolerable well.’'
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Hunter-Odom Funeral Home in Rocky Mount. A reception in honor of Whitehead will be held after the service at Comfort Inn in Tarboro.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the College Roundup, P.O. Box 1501, Tarboro, 27886.