'Draft board lady' made her mark

Published July 13, 2007

PLANT CITY - If you were a young man living in Plant City in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, Nancy Rollyson was a very important person in your life.

From the time of the Korean War through the Vietnam War and beyond, Mrs. Rollyson ran the draft board in Plant City. She interviewed most of the local young men of military age, and it was largely her assessment that determined whether they would be drafted and sent to war.

She died June 29 after several months of declining health. She was 86. The exact cause of her death hasn't been determined, but cancer is suspected.

For some 30 years, Mrs. Rollyson was essentially the entire draft board. A few local business leaders volunteered their time, but Mrs. Rollyson was the only paid board member.

During the unpopular Vietnam War, young men across the country despised and feared their local draft boards. But Mrs. Rollyson developed such a reputation for fairness and compassion that she was held in high esteem, her son said.

"It wasn't unusual for her to tell someone that he might want to think about joining the Reserves because he was about to be called up," said Plant City insurance executive Ray "Rolly" Rollyson Jr. "A lot of times the Reserves was the better of the two options."

Plant City was still a very small, semirural town during Mrs. Rollyson's tenure, and the antagonism to the Vietnam War wasn't as intense as it was in many other parts of the country. It was also a "very patriotic town," her son said, so the draft board lady wasn't considered a villain. If anything, she was something of a local celebrity.

"My father was mayor of Plant City," Rolly Rollyson said. "And the reputation of my parents, both my mother and father, have really helped me in my business life."

Mrs. Rollyson lived her entire life in Plant City. Her father was a pharmacist, and when she married her high school sweetheart, Ray Rollyson, he took over the drugstores that her father had run.

She always worked full time, but her husband worked longer hours. So it was usually Mrs. Rollyson who would drive her sons Rolly and Mikel to sporting events.

"She was our ride, but she was also our cheerleader," Rolly Rollyson said.

Mrs. Rollyson had lived her whole life around boys. She had brothers but no sisters, sons but no daughters, and grandsons but no granddaughters.

That may be why she became an avid sports fan and a particular devotee of the University of Florida.

Her love of UF sports peaked in the 1960s, when both her sons were on Gator teams. Rolly played baseball, and Mikel played basketball,

But her devotion to the Gators never waned, even when she was dying.

"Just before she died, I told her that three of the Gator basketball players from the national championship team had gone in the top 10 in the draft," Rolly Rollyson said. "That made her really happy."

Besides her sons, Mrs. Rollyson is survived by two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.