William “Bill” Tucker began his five-year stint in the National Football League in the late 1960s.
Decades later, he’s still remembered in his sport-oriented West Virginia hometown as a standout athlete and an accomplished artist.
After he was named a high school All-American, Tucker became his college’s first football player to compete in the Senior Bowl.
While he was a running back for the San Francisco 49ers, his pencil drawings and oil paintings were featured in Bay area art shows.
“He was very talented,” said former neighbor and high school teammate Ted Tomasovich of Washougal, Wash. “He was a great guy and an all-around great athlete.”
Tucker of Snellville died Nov. 26 of a heart attack at the age of 73. His funeral was Dec. 4 at Wages Funeral Home’s Snellville Chapel.
Born on Sept. 14, 1942, in Union, S.C., Tucker grew up in Weirton, W.Va., where his father was a steel mill worker. He was the fifth of nine children.
Showing a talent for art and athletics early on, Tucker began drawing and painting in elementary school. In high school, he played basketball, ran track and excelled as a running back on the Weir High School football team that won back-to-back state championships in 1960 and 1961.
During his senior year in 1962, Tucker was named an All-Ohio Valley Athletic Conference, All-State and All-American honoree in football and was selected the most valuable player in the Ohio-West Virginia All-Star Game.
“Bill’s style was big and strong and fast. He would rather run someone over than run around them,” Tomasovich said.
After high school, he married his childhood sweetheart Roseann Livington in 1962.
The following year, he went to Tennessee A&I (now Tennessee State University) on a football scholarship. He majored in art and played for the legendary College Hall of Fame football coach John Merritt.
In 1967, Tucker became the first Tennessee A&I football player to compete in the Senior Bowl and Blue-Gray Football Classic. That same year, he was drafted in the third round by the San Francisco 49ers.
After playing for the 49ers from 1967 to 1970 and one year with the Chicago Bears, Tucker retired from the NFL.
He returned to the San Francisco Bay area and got a job teaching physical education and art in the San Mateo School District. He also worked as a newspaper delivery truck driver for the San Francisco Examiner.
Over the years, Tucker remained a hometown hero who never forgot his West Virginia roots.
He would visit his former high school to encourage young football players and offer tips on playing the game, said childhood friend and former high school teammate Robert Kelley of Lacey, Wash.
“He always had a smile and a positive attitude,” Kelley said. “We grew up in the segregated era. Our parents were very strict. But we had a good life. He was a great athlete. He was also an outstanding artist. Bill got along with everybody.”
Tucker has been inducted into the Weir High School Wall of Fame and the Tennessee State Sports Hall of Fame. He also received a Dapper Dan special achievement award and was named one of the Street of Dreams professional athletes who grew up on Weir Avenue, a major thoroughfare in Weirton’s black community.
After retiring from the newspaper and school district, he and his wife relocated to Snellville in 2003.
While traveling, Tucker often kept a sketchpad handy. Over the years, he created hundreds of paintings and pencil drawings. He sold a few pieces, but shared most of his artwork with family and friends.
He continued sketching portraits and oil painting until about two months before his death.
“My father’s legacy consisted of never breaking anyone’s spirit. If you were down, he brought you up,” said his daughter Vanita Brown of Seattle. “He was an unselfish man, even in football. He loved my mother. They were best friends. His life was full.”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Tucker is survived by his brothers Sylvester Tucker of Union, S.C., Robert Tucker of Weirton and Willie Tucker of Toledo, Ohio; his sisters Carrie Good of Union, S.C., Gladys Young of San Mateo, Calif., Betty Rollen of Snellville and Rebecca Turner of Weirton; and four grandchildren.