TAMPA — We might have learned about Lee Roy Selmon because he was an all-American at the University of Oklahoma. We might have marveled at his athleticism as he helped build the early Tampa Bay Buccaneers and became a member of pro football's Hall of Fame. We might even have known of Selmon as the owner of a popular restaurant chain and namesake of an expressway.
But talk to his friends, to his barber, to the children who met him when he visited local public housing projects, even strangers who never spoke to him.
Selmon's greatest gift might have been his quiet moments of humanity.
"He had what you would call the common touch," said longtime friend Dr. Juel Smith of Tampa. "He could connect to the common people who would not have the means to see him on a football field or would not see him in corporate office, but maybe knew who he was because they saw him on TV."
Smith, who knew Selmon when she founded University of South Florida's Institute on Black Life, was thinking of the hours he spent signing autographs and posing for photos at an inner-city skating rink, and the easy conversations he had in visits to public housing.
"They loved him. The children were all over him. Everyone wanted to feel and touch him," she said of 56-year-old Selmon, who died Sunday after suffering a stroke Friday morning.
Like many others, Smith spoke of traits that made everyone want to be around Selmon. No matter what the conversation or setting, he always shook hands or offered a genuine smile.
"It was always kind of hard to leave him," said his barber of 15 years, Joe Demoulin, 57. "He was one of those guys, when you got ready to depart, you didn't know who was going to get that last word in, like, 'Okay, now … It was so nice to see you again … We'll see you again real soon.' You didn't know how to end it."
Demoulin, the owner of Attitude Plus barbershop on Nebraska Avenue, believes Selmon chose his shop years ago partly because of a sign outside: No profanity, no gossip.
Selmon came in every two weeks and sometimes brought his sons, Chris and Lee Roy Jr., and he often took time to talk to other clients, especially children.
"We felt like he was a part of us," Demoulin said. "He treated us the same way."
In more professional settings, Selmon's character still touched others in a personal way.
Joe Voskerichian, executive director of the Gold Shield Foundation for families of fallen firefighters and police officers, met Selmon in the late '80s. They worked together on the Florida State Fair Authority and on countless fundraiser for the Gold Shield Foundation.
"You know, for the stature he had, being an all-American football player," Voskerichian said, "he was as humble an individual as you'd ever want to meet. Anytime you needed him, he'd be available. I have his phone number in my book here right now. You could call him anytime, and if he didn't respond, he'd call you right back."
Even those who met him only briefly were moved by his kindness and the time he spent focusing on others.
"Sure, he was famous because he played football, but he really was so much more than that — so much more beyond that," said Tampa resident Gene Balter, standing outside of Lee Roy Selmon's Restaurant on Tuesday.
Balter, 56, said he was devastated at the news of Selmon's stroke.
A University of South Florida graduate, he recalled how Selmon autographed memorabilia for yearly fundraisers for the College of Engineering. "He never turned us down," he said.
Johnny Barker, 81, spoke with Selmon a few months ago at the funeral for Tom McEwen, the late Tampa Tribune sports columnist.
"If you were talking to him, it was all about you and not Lee Roy Selmon. That's an amazing characteristic, isn't it?"
Demoulin, the barber, choked up thinking about the loss to the community, and to his little shop.
"It kind of hurts, knowing just how he was as a man and him being so kind," he said. "Something will be missed."
Times staff writers Danny Valentine and Kim Wilmath contributed to this report. Emily Nipps can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8452.