HUDSON — The Rev. Billy Legg didn't care much for politics but he loved his son, John, who was running for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. His son needed signatures to get on the ballot, so, for days, both of them went door-to-door, separately.
"I was out all day and only got eight or nine," John Legg would say at the day's end.
"I didn't do so well either," Rev. Legg would respond. "I only got 90. Maybe 95."
This was not surprising.
The Rev. Legg, 71, who died Wednesday (Aug. 3, 2011) at HPH Hospice, loved people and people loved him. He was kind and soft spoken. When people talked to him, he gave them his full attention. He listened. He cared.
"People trusted him," said Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, who won his first House seat in 2004. "They saw a genuineness in him."
A few years ago, the nondenominational Protestant minister suffered a terrible stroke that left him paralyzed on his right side. For a man who loved to talk, he spent his remaining years only able to say a word or two. But he still focused on others, as he always did. When he saw visitors, he would reach out his hand in a gesture that said, "How are you? Are you okay?" He never wanted focus to be on him. He enjoyed lifting others' spirits.
"You could never give him a compliment without him complimenting you — and you walking away feeling encouraged," said John Legg's wife, Suzanne.
The Rev. Legg would say his personality came from his faith. He became a Christian in his 20s and, since making that change, never smoked, drank, swore or raised his voice. He was not preachy or holier-than-thou. He did not condemn people who didn't believe what he believed.
"He never made you feel less," said Suzanne Legg. "He always built you up in such a beautiful, loving way."
He could have turned out to be a much different person. The Rev. Legg grew up hard in West Virginia as one of 13 children. A few other siblings died as babies. The Rev. Legg's father died when he was young. The family had no money and, often, no food. As an adult, the Rev. Legg refused to allow oatmeal inside his house. It reminded him too much of his childhood, where that was all he and his siblings had to eat. Growing up hungry made him appreciate food. He was not picky. He loved to eat everything, especially sweets, and maintained a jolly belly. He had thick, white hair and twinkling blue eyes. He was always smiling. If he had a beard instead of a mustache, he might have looked like Santa Claus.
The Rev. Legg met his wife, Eva, more than half a century ago. They married and moved to Florida with hopes for a better life for their children, William, Michael, Vanessa, Douglas and John.
The Rev. Legg never finished high school and worked construction, helping to build many of the homes in west Pasco. His children asked him why he stayed at a low wage job all his life. He said it was because he viewed it as part of his ministry; he worked with people who could use some positivity. In addition to working full time, he always worked at churches. He spent more than a decade as an associate minister at Hudson Church of God, which is where his funeral will be Saturday.
John Legg will give a eulogy. He's been thinking about what to say about his father.
"When people saw him, they just thought of love," he said. "He was really an example of God's love on this earth — of how God loves people."
When he thinks of how difficult these past few years were for his father, who never complained, who was in pain, unable to communicate, not able to care for himself, after a lifetime of being so selfless and loving, John Legg gets emotional.
"I knew at the very end, after all he had been through, my dad would still say, 'God is good,' " Legg said.
His father always told him that God never promised life would be easy — but how we face adversity is our choice.
"With the unfairness of this world, there is still a plan," Legg said. "There is still a reason. We only know a part, as my dad would always say.
"We just have to trust."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.