Jimmy Snyder came home one day when he was a boy in Baltimore to find his dad playing cards with Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson.
"It blew my mind,'' he said. "These guys were my idols and they're sitting at my dining room table. Dad didn't make a big deal out of it, so I tried to be cool. But it was amazing.''
The elder Jim Snyder hobnobbed with Baltimore's sports stars and business leaders during his 25 years directing the local United Way. He helped raise millions of dollars for nonprofit organizations and learned through his own personal tragedy how valuable they were to ordinary families.
When his wife, Betty, died from breast cancer in 1971, he was left to raise three children, ages 12, 10 and 7. Jim felt overwhelmed until agencies like the Family and Children Society gave him support and guidance.
"He made great sacrifices,'' his son said, "but he took great care to raise his children.''
And once they were grown, the elder Snyder moved to Florida. He painted beautiful landscapes and portraits and played golf and tennis, but he missed United Way. He missed helping the kind of organizations that had helped him.
That restlessness turned out to be Pasco County's good fortune. He took over the fledgling United Way in 1988 and used the skills he had honed in Baltimore to dramatically increase the amount of money distributed to 23 agencies.
In his first year, United Way of Pasco gave out $240,000. Snyder quickly calculated how many dollars were leaving the county through payroll deductions, as most Pasco workers drove to jobs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. He educated them how to designate their dollars to local agencies. And by the time he retired in 1999, the Pasco agencies were dividing $1 million from the United Way.
As longtime County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand put it at Snyder's retirement party, "He created the United Way in Pasco. . . . He came in and he was a pro.''
Snyder spent the next several years immersed in genealogy, tracking family members to the 1400s. He moved to Sun City near Tampa and continued to paint and play golf. He celebrated his six grandchildren and the fact that his own three kids remained nearby.
His son Jimmy, 52, travels extensively as a partner in the Ceviche restaurant chain. But he seldom missed a date to play golf with his dad on Sundays. This week was no exception. Jimmy drove from his home in Tampa to Sun City. He had worried that his dad had not answered the phone. He went inside the home. Jim Snyder, 77, had died from a heart attack.
On Tuesday, as the son tended to his duty, he managed to chuckle at the understatement that his dad had grown irascible in his old age. He had lived so long in the shadow of Washington, D.C., witnessed so much government waste, that he fell easily in love with the tea party movement. He remained quick on his feet and sharp with his political rants. But given the choice, he'd much prefer the image of Brooks Robinson diving toward the third base line.
"He loved those days in Baltimore,'' his son said. "He had a full and interesting life. He was a wonderful father.''
James Stansbury Snyder
Born: Nov. 10, 1934
Died: Aug. 5, 2012
Survivors: Son James Jr., daughters Jacquelyn Hobby-DiMarco and Suzanne Snyder-Crocamo; brother Samuel Snyder.
Services: 3 p.m. Thursday, Curlew Hills Memory Gardens chapel, 1750 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor.
Burial: 11 a.m. Saturday, Meadow Ridge Cemetery, Elkridge, Md.