The South Providence Recreation Center will be renamed tomorrow for the late John H. Rollins, a former Providence City Council member, civil rights activist and football star at both La Salle Academy and the University of Rhode Island.
Rollins, who died in May at age 77, was also an advocate for youth sports and education. The event will take place at the rec center at 10 a.m. Congressman David Cicilline, Mayor Jorge Elorza, State Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, Rep. Joseph Almeida, D-Providence and Council President Luis Aponte are all scheduled to attend, along with Rollins family members.
Rollins was a warm, friendly man with a wide smile. He was known for treating everyone in a fair anad compassionate manner.
He stunned the city’s political establishment in 1986 when he upset incumbent City Councilman Lloyd Griffin to win a Democratic primary on the city’s South Side and Washington Park neighborhoods. Rollins won the primary by about 200 votes after a spirited door-to-door campaign.
Griffin had been an entrenched council member who was close to former mayor Buddy Cianci and the city’s political establishment. He also had the backing that year of then-Mayor Joseph Paolino Jr. But Griffin had angered many voters with his focus on patronage and using his council perch to help himself and his allies and not paying enough attention to neighborhood issues.
Rollins concentrated on such neighborhood topics as crime and the need for a stronger police presence in the area.
He was the first star African-American football player at URI. Rollins also had tryouts with two National Football League teams, the New York Giants and the Green Bay Packers and nearly made the Packers roster.
An accomplished chef, Rollins used his culinary prowess to cook dinners that were benefits for a scholarship fund at La Salle Academy.
Rollins and his wife, Julia, were known for their commitment to civil rights, particularly around the issues of school integration and education.