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What I Do: Roosevelt Williams, 66

Retired burn specialist and volunteer for 50 years at Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia Hospitals.

He got burned, but I got burned the baddest. I ran into the fence. I ran, I ran, you know. [There was a] stick on the fence and I stuck it in my stomach. I got paralyzed for about two years, cause it hit my spine and paralyzed me. … I was about 10 years old.

… They said 49 percent of my body got burned. … I stayed in the hospital about four and a half years because they didn't have the stuff they have now to treat a burn and I was paralyzed too. My spinal injury, I wasn't completely paralyzed but I couldn't walk. … Had skin grafts and stuff like that.

It didn't feel good, but I had nothing to do but stay to get well, you know. One doctor operated on me 25 times, the Dr. Leroy Smith. Did plastic surgery on me 25 times.

I worked here for 32 years. And I've been working here about 18 more years, maybe, [for] free. You know, to help them around the hospital, treating burns.

I lived here all my life, mostly. And I wanted to take care of people who were gettin' burned. … especially the little children. Tell them what they got to do when they get a face burn. What they have to go through, you know … people lookin' at you all strange, and stuff like that. I say, "Just don't pay 'em no mind." 'Cause some peoples out there looking worse than you. …"

I went in a house one time, over on N Street over there in Church Hill. The house was on fire. And I went up there and the girl's boyfriend had poured gas all over the house and set the house on fire. And the babies and the mama was upstairs. I went up there and grabbed the boy. She wouldn't let me have the girl. She was holding the girl by the hand and she was pregnant at the time. So I took the boy downstairs, laid him on the street because he was burned on his face and arms and stuff. And I went up there to try to go back up. Fire coming down the steps like it was water. So I couldn't get back up there to her. So she opened the window. I said, "Drop the little girl right there to me." She wouldn't drop the girl. She died and the little girl died in the house together. That broke my heart. Why take something you can't give? If you can't give life, don't take life.

— Interviewed by Melissa Scott Sinclair, Photographed by Scott Elmquist.

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