ST. PETERSBURG — His worn broom propped him up, almost until the end.
Even after his boss threw him a party for his 100th birthday, and kidney stones bent his back with pain, and he got so weak he had to go to the hospital, Newton Murray came back to his little boiler room at Bama Sea Products.
And kept working. Shuffling around the sprawling warehouse in his worn coveralls, sweeping shrimp shells from the vast parking lots, greeting the guys in his thick island accent, "Hello, Cap'n!"
"We needed him here, even these last few months, when he mostly napped," said Michael Stephens, lawyer for Bama seafood. "He just changed how everyone felt about their day, about their work, really, about life."
Mr. Newton, as everyone called him, died Sunday morning — his favorite time of the week. A nurse was with him in the little house in St. Petersburg that he paid off years ago. Beside him was the birthday card President Barack Obama sent him in April, after U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor showed a staffer a story about him from the Tampa Bay Times.
"He was shaking when we gave him that," said Stephens. "He kept saying he never thought he would live long enough to see a black president."
Murray was born in Tobago, the third of 11 children, in 1914 — just before World War I. He slept on a dirt floor with his siblings, watched the first car zoom across the island, the first electric lights flicker through the darkness. In seventh grade, he dropped out of school to work as a yard boy.
For the next 88 years, he seldom took a day off.
He worked for Texaco in Trinidad, raised cows, goats and pigs, and had two stepdaughters and two godsons. On Sundays, he preached at a Baptist church. He and his wife moved to Florida in 1976, and he found work as a janitor at a St. Petersburg warehouse. When Bama bought the property 14 years ago, Mr. Newton told them, "I came with the building."
"We went to visit him two weeks ago, and he could barely get out of bed," Stephens said. "But he kept saying, 'I'm coming back. Don't fill my position. I'm coming back.' "
In the eight decades Mr. Newton worked, he never asked for a new uniform or more than minimum wage. Never complained, even on 100-degree days.
When anyone suggested he retire, he asked, "Why would I? As long as you are alive, you got to do something."
He never thought about whether he liked his job. He was just grateful to have one. To matter. He kept saying: "They need me here."
Stephens plans to frame Mr. Newton's patched coveralls, to hang them in Bama's front hall — like retiring a hall of famer's jersey. He says no one has been able to clean out the boiler room yet.
Or get rid of that worn broom.
Funeral services for Newton Murray will be on Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Zion Hill Mortuary, 1700 49th St., St. Petersburg, 33707.
lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be sent to the church, Unity of St. Petersburg, 6168 First Ave. N.
Contact Lane DeGregory at [email protected] or (727) 893-8825. Follow @LaneDeGregory.