Bowe's mom not down for count Tough woman outlasts family's tough times

November 10, 1992|By Michael Katz | Michael Katz,New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- Her youngest of seven sons, the one who could become heavyweight champion of the world on Friday, was up there on stage with Arsenio Hall himself, had just told the United States she was the "real champion," and the best Dorothy Bowe could manage for the television camera was a shrug of a smile.

Well, at least she didn't have to get "liquored up" the way she used to when she first went to see him fight in the Golden Gloves. Scotch was Dorothy Bowe's only concession to her son's dangerous profession. She can handle it now without the drink, the same way she soberly handled the more dangerous job of life.

Straight up. Que sera.

Stoicism may be a maternal instinct, but it gets highly developed when you lose a daughter to killers and a son to AIDS and try to raise a fatherless family in a notorious Brownsville crack house. She allowed that Riddick Bowe's challenge on Friday of Evander Holyfield might necessitate a new dress. But after 13 kids, 46 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and a life built on the rubble of death, Dorothy Bowe was indeed a "real champion."

"Nobody special," she said. "Just a mother."

"My mother has been father, mother, sister and brother," Riddick Bowe said.

And the biggest influence on the 25-year-old undefeated challenger. She passed on to him the African soup bone.

"She'd say, 'Sit down or I'll give you the soup bone,' her right hand, and that's when I would run," said another son, Aaron Wright. "It's better than Riddick's. Riddick slings his. Mom's is straight."

The soup bone is connected to the backbone. In a family where tragedy was always just around the corner, or down the hall where the dealers' lookouts were cleaning their Uzis, Riddick Bowe managed to survive cleanly. The father, a part-time chauffeur who died a year ago, was long gone from the scene. Mother, a sharecropper's daughter with dignity, has her face etched with sadness from other children. Nothing from Riddick except a few sips of whiskey.

Riddick is away, but much of the rest of the family had squeezed into his mother's tidy, three-room apartment on which he pays the rent in Coney Island. She padded about, a 60-year-old woman with eyes both twinkling and sad, offering fried chicken or deviled eggs "and watch out for that chocolate cake," Bowe had warned. What she does to broccoli would make George Bush change his mind.

"You can't get me to give away my secrets," she scolded.

"The woman can burn, can't she?" Bowe says. "That's why I'm a big man."

The scene is almost pastoral after their last New York residence, in Brownsville, an address next to hell. Armies of crack dealers patrol with Uzis, double-pump shotguns and 9mm killing machines. There's a homicide a week in the slow season.

Brenda and Henry had moved out when they died, months apart, four years ago. They each would be 39 now. Brenda was killed three weeks before Riddick won a place on the 1988 Olympic team. She had left her job when some crack dealers asked if she wanted to buy. She said no. They stabbed her to death.

"They still haven't caught anyone," said Dorothy.

Henry died several months after Riddick's disappointing silver medal in Seoul, South Korea. Had no heart, the critics said after he lost to Lennox Lewis. So what if his sister was murdered, his brother was dying and he was just three months past major surgery on his right hand and had suffered a hairline ankle fracture in the Olympic trials?

The family doesn't know how Henry became infected with AIDS -- injections of drugs, a prison stay or his work at Coney Island Hospital.

"Who knows? What's the difference?" said his mother, her grief long ago absorbed.

Three years ago, one of Bowe's sisters sent their mother flowers for her birthday. The flowers were dead on arrival. So was the delivery man. They were stuffed in a garbage can and left for Mrs. Bowe.

Bowe got the message.

He got his wife and kids -- there's now three -- into the suburbs of Fort Washington, Md., and brought his mother with them. He

made her quit her job of 22 years as a machine operator in the plastics factory, midnight-to-8 shift.

"The first thing I noticed about not being in New York," he said, "was that I didn't hear shots fired every night. I realized I could let my kids walk around and nobody was going to steal them."

Dorothy Bowe got lonely in paradise. The rest of the family was scattered around New York. Riddick finally got her the Coney Island apartment around the corner from where sister Darlene lives.

"He's going to build me a house down in Maryland. I'll give this up," Dorothy said. "I can always come back and stay with one of the kids when I get lonely."

She wants to work again, too. Just because her son is becoming wealthy doesn't mean she was meant to have idle hands.

"I'm tired of doing nothing," said the daughter of Augusta, Ga., sharecroppers.

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