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Honor Thy Father | Anita DeFrantz / FATHER: Robert
DeFrantz

Learning a clear-eyed global perspective at family dinners, she gained drive to succeed

Father's Day might be just another holiday for some, but John Wooden, Vin Scully, Anita DeFrantz and Arte Moreno all were strongly influenced by their dads. Here, they recall the men who helped make them what they became.

June 18, 2006|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Anita DeFrantz was a young girl when her father drove her to neighboring Marion, Ind., to show her a sign, a holdover from the days of segregation.

It read: "Don't get caught here after dark ... " and ended with a racial slur.

Robert David DeFrantz, community activist and former president of the NAACP at Indiana University, wanted his daughter to see the world with eyes wide open.

"At the same time, he wanted me to know that everyone has something to offer," said DeFrantz, who went on to become one of the most powerful women in the Olympic sports movement.

He died four months before the 1984 Games in L.A., but DeFrantz lived long enough to see his only daughter win a bronze medal in rowing in 1976, and ascend the Olympic ranks as an executive.

Not only was she a member of the 1976 and 1980 U.S. Olympic teams, Anita DeFrantz became the first U.S. woman and the first African American to serve on the International Olympic Committee. In 1986, the IOC appointed her to lifetime membership in the organization.

DeFrantz, a Los Angeles attorney, is now president and board member of the Amateur Athletic Foundation.

She credits her parents with instilling the drive that got her this far.

Her mother, also named Anita, is a retired professor who created the University of San Francisco's international multicultural-education program. She received her doctorate in communications -- a fitting specialty, considering it was communication that the DeFrantz family held so dear.

"Every night at the dinner table, all of us contributed something," said Anita the daughter.

"Someone would bring up an issue, and we'd all discuss it.... Our parents wanted to make sure we knew what was going on in the world."

DeFrantz recalls a time, she was 9 or 10, that her father asked her what, if anything, she would do to change the world if she could.

"I said I would make sure that no one, especially children, went hungry," she said. "Because when you're hungry, you can't think. When you can't think, you can't learn. If you get sick, you can't contribute."

Her father was a member of the Indianapolis school board and a social worker whose final job was with the Community Action Against Poverty project.

"My dad believed in his family," said DeFrantz, who has three brothers. "He'd take me to many of his community meetings and we'd talk about what happened. I kind of hung out with him."

Robert DeFrantz was a man of convictions.

He earned two master's degrees, in sociology and -- when he refused to make the edits his advisors wanted him to in his thesis on on-campus integration -- in social work.

"He had a great sense of humor," his daughter said. "He had these little sayings, these little double-entendres.... Both my parents were very evolved people."

His children started swimming early in life. And the elder DeFrantz dreamed that Anita and one of her brothers would become the first African Americans on the U.S. swim team. That didn't happen.

But, in a way, he wasn't far off the mark.

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