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Bill Sharpe, founder of paper for Tampa's homeless, recalled at memorial service

TAMPA — Friends remember never being able to win an argument with Bill Sharpe.

"He always believed he was right, even when he wasn't," said Gregory Wilson, one of three friends who spoke Tuesday at a memorial service for Mr. Sharpe at Hyde Park United Methodist Church.

"He'd say, 'Well, there's some truth to what you're saying,' but that's the most you'd get." Wilson laughed along with the crowd of more than 100.

Mr. Sharpe, who had gone from selling recreational vehicles to publishing the South Tampa Community News, displayed that trait during his most famous quarrel with the Tampa City Council when it passed restrictions on panhandling.

In response to the city banning panhandling on all but one day of the week, he founded the Tampa Epoch, a monthly newspaper that people in need could sell on the streets on any day to help support themselves.

His controversial decision to launch the paper last year brought together in one place Tuesday a cross section of South Tampa residents and the city's homeless people.

Blue Tampa Epoch T-shirts and neon-green vests were scattered throughout the crowd of dark suits and black dresses.

Mr. Sharpe's legacy of trying to lift Tampa's homeless out of poverty shone as each speaker told of his efforts.

After the memorial, Phillippe Ouellette, 70, of Seffner said he has been selling the paper since its debut in December to try to make ends meet. "He was just a kind guy, a really helpful guy who wanted to give everyone a chance," Ouellette said.

During the eulogy, the Rev. Vicki R. Walker acknowledged the tragedy of a man determined to help others taking his own life.

Mr. Sharpe, 59, committed suicide April 2 in his North Hyde Park office.

"Bill's sister told me that as a child he always wanted to be Superman," she said. "How could he have known the person he most needed to save was himself?"

While Mr. Sharpe was heavily involved in the Davis Islands Chamber of Commerce and promoted community events, including the recent Tampa Bay Seafood Festival, he also had experienced financial problems. His flagship paper struggled in the recession, and he poured resources into the Epoch.

Years ago, in 1997, he had been found guilty of selling counterfeit American Express money orders while running a bar in Ocala.

"You go through a lot of stuff in life," he told the Times last year. "You make a lot of mistakes."

On Saturday, Mr. Sharpe will be buried in a Vidalia, Ga., cemetery among relatives who lived in the 1800s, said Barbara Sharpe-Gardner, 66, his sister from Flower Mound, Texas. She and her husband, Stowe, 67, were the only family representatives who made it to Tampa for the memorial.

During the service, Walker reminded the crowd that the best way to honor Mr. Sharpe would be to keep his dream of helping those in need alive.

"Bill did his part," she said. "Now, it's your turn."

Linda Karson, center, is comforted by Steven Gruetzmacher after the service. The advocate for the homeless assured Gruetzmacher, who lives on the streets, the Epoch will go on.

CAROLINA HIDALGO | Times

Linda Karson, center, is comforted by Steven Gruetzmacher after the service. The advocate for the homeless assured Gruetzmacher, who lives on the streets, the Epoch will go on.

Bill Sharpe, founder of paper for Tampa's homeless, recalled at memorial service 04/17/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 1:19am]

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