A lot of people in Pocahontas County know that Bruce Bosley, who grew up in Durbin, was a fearsome football player at West Virginia University and in the National Football League. Some know that Bruce was an engineer, who graduated from college with nearly straight A’s. But apart from his accomplishments on the football field and in the classroom, few know what kind of person Bosley really was.
The Pocahontas County Commission recently invited Bruce’s nephew, Jon Michael Bosley, to talk about his uncle. Bosley gave a slideshow presentation on his uncle’s numerous accomplishments on and off the field. The commission is looking into commemorative road signs and other ideas to honor the late Bruce Bosley.
Bruce was a former NFL star, living in San Francisco, when Jon got to know him.
“I was pretty young when I first talked to my uncle,” he said. “At the time, for whatever reason, he and Dad would just call each other on holidays and things like that. Once I found out my uncle was a pro athlete and this is pretty cool, I said, ‘let’s call him and talk to him.’ So, one Sunday we did and started talking and started chatting. It seemed like, every Sunday from then on out, he always called the house.”
After telephone conversations became regular, Bruce became a mentor for young Jon.
“He talked to me about school and about how everything was going, life in general,” said Jon. “He and Dad chatted after that. After his playing career, he would go to 49ers games and go home and call. We’d watch the game on TV and my uncle would go to the game. He’d call and talk about the game that we just watched on TV. He would call every Sunday.
“He told me to listen to my parents and do good in school. He told me why I should do good in school. He said some things might not seem very important at a young age, but later on down the road, you’ll understand why doing the right things now will pay off in the end.”
The conversations helped Jon get through tumultuous times.
“It was good because, going through school, I was a troubled kid,” said Jon. “Up until about sixth grade, I was kicked out of school several times a year. He definitely contributed to get me through that. I really listened to what he had to say. I did respect him, and he was someone that came from where I was at. He came from not very much money and did something important with his life.”
Jon knew his uncle was sincere.
“He truly seemed like he cared,” said Jon. “He wasn’t just asking what an uncle would ask a nephew. He truly cared how I was doing and what was going on in my life and if he could do anything to make that better. When I talked to him, it wasn’t like a kid talking to his uncle. It was like chatting with your best friend – one that really understood you and was really looking out for you.”
Naturally, Jon and his uncle talked a lot about sports.
“He was beyond excited when the Mountaineers had the opportunity to play in the Sugar Bowl in 1993,” said Jon. “That was one game he and his teammates felt that they let get away, when they went in 1953.”
The 1993 Mountaineers likely feel the same way. They let it get away to Florida, 41-7.
Before his retirement from the NFL, Bruce started a business restoring older homes. NFL Films profiled the football star and his successful business in a 1967 film titled, “They Lead Two Lives.” He continued running the business following his retirement in 1969.
After the end of his football career, Bruce continued to manage his business and worked tirelessly in several civic endeavors. He served on the board of directors for the San Francisco Annex for Cultural Arts and the San Francisco Council for the Performing Arts. He volunteered much of his time to the San Francisco Film Festival and the San Francisco Ballet. During this time, he visited his brothers John (Jon’s father) and Jim and sister Shirley in Durbin several times.
Bruce also founded a chapter of an NFL-affiliated charity group in San Francisco. Jon believes this work will be one of his uncle’s most enduring legacies.
“Building the NFL Alumni, San Francisco Chapter – because that directly results with helping children,” said Jon. “He spent 16-17 hours a day getting funding, talking to people, going out and reaching out to kids, unpaid, to help get that program off the ground.”
The San Francisco Chronicle wrote this about Bruce’s work to start the alumni chapter:
“Bruce did that at great personal expense because he was working pro bono at the expense of making money for himself. He never hesitated. This was a labor of love. The focus of the much-expanded NFL Alumni work is on programs for kids, and he firmly believed he and his former teammates should do everything they could for youngsters. Even among the former players from his era, Bosley stood out for his selflessness and willingness to help others.”
Now the NFL Alumni Northern California Chapter, the non-profit service organization raises funds for worthy causes to help young people. In 1999, the chapter dedicated its new headquarters at the Bruce Bosley Memorial Building in Redwood City, near San Francisco.
Tragically, Bruce died of a sudden heart attack in 1995.
“We started talking when I was eight and he passed away when I was 15,” said Jon. “So, I only had a handful of years to actually get to know him.”
But Jon followed his uncle’s advice. He listened to his parents, worked hard, stayed out of trouble and did well in school. He graduated from WVU with honors in 2004, and earned a master’s degree from Oregon State in 2006. He currently works as an environmental resources specialist with the Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston.
Jon thinks other local kids could benefit from learning about his Uncle Bruce.
“The things he did shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said. “In today’s society, we don’t get a lot of role models on TV. Everything we read in the newspaper and see on the Internet, there’s just not a lot of positive to look up to. We have a hometown hero, who came from nothing, made money, made a name for himself and then, after the height, he still gave back to the community because that’s what he loved to do.”