Caretaker of the Family
When Malissa White was growing up in Bald Knob, Ark., strangers assumed she was the eldest child in the family, even though she was not. If anyone asked her older sister a question, she would answer. "She was like the caretaker of the whole family, the spokesperson, the whole lot," said her brother Marc.
When Ms. White married Rocky Higgins in 1996 and they set up house together in East Flatbush, she became a mother to his two sons. Marlon, the older of the two, played basketball at his high school in Queens. Ms. White kept in contact with his coaches and college scouts, making it possible for him to win a basketball scholarship to Talladega College in Alabama. She found summer jobs for Mr. Higgins's nieces.
"She was a real family person," Mr. Higgins said of his wife, who was 36 and worked in the human resources department of Marsh & McLennan. Ms. White was a mentor in her church. When members of the congregation were burned out of their homes, she took them in. "All I can say is that she is the best thing that happened to me," Mr. Higgins said.
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on September 25, 2001.