Four priests attended last week's funeral Mass for James Algood at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa.
Not too shabby for a Baptist.
His wife Cecilia explained that since he married her at Christ the King 41 years ago and tagged along for Mass every Sunday, he deserved, by golly, a sendoff there, too.
James Algood's death from pancreatic cancer at age 65 did not make the news, but besides those four priests, 300 others shared prayers for him. They included many chiefs of fire-rescue and emergency medical services.
One introduced himself to Cecilia as Don Lundy, EMS director in Charleston, S.C.
"Everyone knows what Jim did locally," he told her. "But do you know what he did nationally?"
Algood was once a University of South Florida student who got a part-time job driving an ambulance for Ambulances Inc. in Tampa. No previous training was required. He barely knew how to tape on a Band-Aid.
He saw the wrong and set out to change it. He ended up building Hillsborough County's emergency medical services system — one with entirely new training standards and equipment, paid for with grants he wrote.
Because of that, the sick and injured could be treated by paramedics on the scene and en route to the hospital. Countless thousands of lives were saved.
The Florida Association of Medical Services labeled him the "Florida Father of EMS."
For the more than 20 years he was Hillsborough County's director of emergency medical services, Algood saw himself as a White Knight, a man on a mission. He preached standards throughout the country. "I want it done right," he'd say — no matter what it took. That made him a lousy politician.
Said Cecilia: "He'd get really upset when he explained what was needed and was told, 'Yes, but …'
"I told him, 'Jim, you've got to be more tactful.' "
He got better at it. But only a little better. Battles in Tampa — and even some physical threats — caused Algood to move his family to quieter pastures in Lutz.
After Algood retired in 2006, he and Cecilia planned to travel. She told him to get a passport. He said he didn't need one. He wanted to see America.
So they hit the road.
Actually, they hit the back roads. He never took an interstate highway if there was a back road going the same way. They never traveled in the spring, when he coached and umpired softball.
By the time he first felt sick a year ago, while umpiring a girls softball game, it was too late. The cancer was advanced.
He died humbly, at home, surrounded by hie family. His daughter is part of his legacy. Amy is a paramedic-registered nurse for Hillsborough Fire-Rescue. The opportunity for paramedics to earn nursing degrees is a program her dad started.
Algood told his wife what he wanted written on his tombstone:
"The Last White Knight."
John Barry can be reached at (727) 448-7108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.