William Robertson loved cycling. And he inspired many others to climb on their bicycles and ride.
He was doing what he loved on Highway 75 in rural Blount County on Aug. 29 when he was struck by a pickup. Robertson died and two others bicyclists were injured.
His tragic death was the inspiration for hundreds of bicycle enthusiasts to gather this past Labor Day in downtown Birmingham and ride together in his memory.
Patrick Packer, co-founder of the group Black People Run Bike and Swim, organized the ride, one of the largest ever to take place in the city center. Robertson was a member of the group, and founded another Birmingham-area cycling organization, Magic City Cyclers.
On Labor Day morning, the cyclists came from all directions, converging at Railroad Park. At least 500 jammed First Avenue South with bicycles of all shapes, colors and sizes before moving east, along the new Jones Valley hiking and biking trail and on through several central Birmingham neighborhoods.
The ride was not only a message of condolence for Robertson’s family; it was a signal to drivers across Central Alabama to be more aware of the road they share with cyclists.
“William loved to ride and introduced cycling to many in the Birmingham area,” Packer said in a statement posted on the Black People Run Bike and Swim website. “This tragedy will only make us double our efforts to provide bike safety programs and engage in policy efforts to help the metropolitan Birmingham area to become a safer community for cyclists.”
The Labor Day ride was led by Robertson’s wife Dianne and Demetrius White, who was one of those injured in the accident. White’s wife Tracey was also injured.
Robertson worked at Alabama Power in the Real Estate department, but he also was a prominent Birmingham-area contractor. The company he founded, Ensley-based Monumental Contracting Service recently completed work on the new Negro Southern League Museum in downtown Birmingham, and had worked on the Westin Hotel in the city’s Uptown area.
Birmingham Mayor William Bell, in a statement, offered condolences to the Robertson family. “Mr. Robertson was not only an outstanding African-American businessman but also a dear friend.”
Bobbie Knight, vice president of the Birmingham Division for Alabama Power, served with Robertson on the executive committee of REV Birmingham, an organization that works to revitalize downtown and the city’s commercial centers.
Joe Allen, a video producer at Alabama Power, went to church with Robertson and described him as a friend and mentor.
Robertson founded a group through the church called the Monday Morning Quarterback Club. Its focus was on goal-setting and “thinking big,” Allen said. “We were all so passionate about his leadership that we would meet every other Monday at his place at 6:30 a.m. By the time we all would get there, he would’ve ridden his bike down to McDonald’s and brought breakfast back for everyone.”
Packer posted a plea on the Black People Run Bike and Swim website, as part of the group’s tribute to Robertson:
“We ask that all drivers please look out for the many cyclists that are on the roads in our community. We have had too many cyclist to be killed and injured by drivers that are distracted and not paying attention to the road.”