Cleveland City Councilman Bill “Chief” Robertson died near midnight following a two-year battle with colon and stomach cancer. He leaves behind a long legacy of servitude to the Cleveland and Bradley County community.
“This is a sad day for all of us,” Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said. “He has affected the lives of thousands as a longtime servant of our community. We are going to miss him.”
The mayor said flags on all local government buildings will be flown at half-staff until Robertson’s funeral.
Arrangements were being made this morning for a viewing and memorial service in Cleveland as well as a service and burial in his hometown of Sevierville.
A talented high school and collegiate athlete, Robertson was a coach, teacher and administrator for more than 44 years, the majority of which was spent in the Bradley County Schools system.
“He was a great man that had a big impact on the lives of the young people of our community,” stated Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools. “He loved the kids and gave of himself to make a difference in their lives.”
An all-state football player at Sevier County High School in 1962, Robertson turned down scholarship offers to play at Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Syracuse and Oklahoma, to name a few, and instead chose to follow his high school coach, Terry Sweeney, to Middle Tennessee State University.
After coaching a couple of years in the Middle Tennessee area right out of college, it was Sweeney who convinced Robertson to join his coaching staff at Bradley Central in 1969.
With an exception of about four years during the late 1970s, “Chief” was involved in the Bear athletic program ever since.
Always smiling. Always friendly. Always willing to help, Robertson’s was one of the most recognized faces and voices in Bradley County. The “Big Guy’s” signature phrases of “Atta baby!” and “Ieeeee!” echo throughout the BCHS facilities and in the minds of the thousands of students and athletes whose lives he touched.
“Not only did he do tremendous work with the Bradley Central program, but he also ran summer golf clinics that touched so many youngsters,” Rowland related. For 17 years, Robertson secured grants to provide a free eight-week golf clinic for area youngsters.
Serving in many coaching capacities for the BCHS and Bradley Junior High School football programs, he posted a 47-34 record in eight seasons as the Bears’ head varsity coach from 1983-90. He also served as head golf coach and assistant wrestling coach, as well as helping out in other sports, throughout his career.
A dozen years ago, Robertson saw another local need and decided to throw his hat into the political ring.
“I had heard my city commissioner, Mitchell Lyle, was retiring, so I went and talked with him to find out for sure. If he wasn’t retiring, I wouldn’t have run. He said he was and luckily I knew a lot of people in District 5, so I got elected,” Robertson explained during an interview last fall.
“‘Chief’ loved Cleveland and serving on the City Council was just one of the many way he gave of himself to our community,” Rowland expressed.
“Somebody made a difference in my life and I hope I’ve done the same for some others,” is how Robertson explained his philosophy of life.
Not only known throughout our community and Sevier County, Robertson never seemed to meet a stranger. “Everybody knows him. We couldn’t go into a Cracker Barrel in Bristol, Murfreesboro or Memphis that someone there didn’t know him and come up to talk to him,” BCHS athletics director Turner Jackson related.
“In the 32 years I knew him, I never saw him mad,” Jackson continued. “He was a fun guy to be around and will be greatly missed.”
Despite the struggles of chemotherapy over the last couple of years, Robertson continued to work until mid-January of this year, when his health would now longer allow it.
“I visited with him for about three hours Monday. He was having a great day and was in great spirits,” BCHS Assistant Principal and longtime friend Greg Geren related. “He told me he missed the teachers and the kids. He talked about wanting to come back to work.”
Geren and Kevin Raper traveled to Sevierville this morning to help make the arrangements for a viewing and memorial service here in Cleveland.
“We hope to be able do like we did with Coach (Robert) Maupin and let the students say goodbye by circling the campus with a procession and then take him to First Baptist for a viewing and memorial service all in one evening,” Geren explained.
Part Cherokee Indian, the 68-year-old Robertson took on a new educational challenge in 1990. The county school system began an alternative school and chose him to head it up, a position he held until he gave it up at the end of the 2008-09 school year.
Although “Chief” had already announced he was stepping away from an active coaching position with the Bear football program last fall, he had planned on continuing to work with the school in other capacities.
More information concerning the memorial service and burial will be announced by the Banner as soon as it becomes available.