Mr. Robert once told The Washington Post that his father was an “alcoholic abuser.” His father left home when Mr. Robert was in grammar school, and the two didn’t communicate for many years.
He showed a penchant for business early on. At 10, he recovered some discarded boxing equipment and organized matches for neighborhood kids in his back yard on Rockdale Drive. He stuck broom handles in the ground and with clothesline made a boxing ring. He charged for popcorn and lemonade.
He sold applesauce. He sold Christmas trees. He sold bacon.
He was in the fourth grade.
“They were the fight nights of the ’50s and ’60s,” he recalled.
Mr. Robert attended St. John’s College High School in Washington, where he famously got into fistfights, set off a smoke bomb and was expelled on more than one occasion. He also excelled in math and chemistry.
His father went to a loan shark in Philadelphia to get money for tuition. “I never got to pay my tuition on time, so I almost never got my report card. The good news is I didn’t get my report card,” Mr. Robert said.