Toi Rose Wise gave birth to four children, all boys. But she was a mother to far more people than that.
After she died last month, at 81, the Atlantic City woman’s family listed seven sons as survivors in her obituary.
Three were really stepsons, but Wise’s biological boys didn’t distinguish — because they say she never did either.
“We were all raised together as brothers,” says Sandor (also called Scott) Wise, of Galloway Township. “And she never treated anybody differently.”
The other boys were the sons of Toi Rose’s ex-husband, Samson Wise — she raised his boys even after their marriage ended. And they weren’t the only people she took in and cared for.
Sandor, 49, who runs an auto-wholesale business, grew up with all those brothers in Syracuse, N.Y., but they spent every summer in Atlantic City. Family friends had a small guest house off the Boardwalk, and “we helped them run it,” Sandor says.
But Toi Rose didn’t just treat her own boys to summers at the shore. She would also bring other kids, ones her friends would ask her to get out of Syracuse for a while — because the kids were getting into trouble at home. The idea was that a few months with Toi Rose could straighten them out.
Still, for as good an influence as she could be, her boys know their mom wasn’t always perfect. She also grew up in Syracuse, but “left school at 12, and went to New York to become a dancer and model,” says her oldest son, Stephen Wise, 57, of Clifton Heights, Pa.
“She was an aspiring entertainer. She hung around with (singer) Sarah Vaughn, went to parties with Charlie Parker” — the legendary but troubled saxophonist — and more big names, Stephen adds.
But as she lived that glitzy club life, Toi Rose became an alcoholic — which, as destructive as it was, later led her to “transform ... and dedicate the rest of her life to helping others,” Stephen continues.
She went back home and studied at Syracuse University to be an alcohol and drug counselor. She also took courses at Rutgers University, and in 1983, she was hired as a counselor at the Atlantic County Jail, which let her move full-time to Atlantic City.
She had more struggles here — including a major stroke and diabetes. But she also helped a lot of people.
Stephanie Peterson, 49, of Egg Harbor Township, calls Toi Rose her “godmother.” They met 26 years ago, through friends, and stayed close ever since.
“I’d call her and she’d say, ‘Hey, Precious,’ or ‘Hi, Darling,’” Peterson says. “It was a joy just to talk to her. ... But there were times she gave me constructive criticism — and I needed it at times.”
In other words, Toi Rose acted just like the mom she was — but not just to her own kids.
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