ST. PETERSBURG — Four years ago, Willie Jordan Jr. bought his first house. Then he sat in his father's living room to talk about what he had done.
This was a big step, Willie Jordan Sr. told his son. Don't take it lightly.
"Your bills come before any girl," he said. "Your bills come before any fun."
Above all, don't screw up your credit. "He always said if you didn't have credit, you had nothing," recalled Willie Jordan Jr., 35.
It was the kind of advice he could expect from the man some family members called "Big Papa," others "Bear." Solid and to the point.
They also counted on Big Papa as a travel companion on cruises, a cook and a dance partner.
Mr. Jordan, who rarely missed a day in 30 years with the city's Sanitation Department, died Sunday of leukemia. He was 67.
"It was a blessing every morning to have a father to watch get up and to work," Jordan Jr. said. Everyone looked up to Mr. Jordan, and consulted him about everything from boyfriends to family finances.
"He was like the patriarch of the family," said sister-in-law Verdelle Clark, 65.
He taught his sons accountability.
"He would definitely use that leather belt," said William Jordan, Willie's twin brother. "But he'd also come back later and explain why he did what he did. He was very emphatic on us doing the right thing."
Both sons are now Pinellas County sheriff's deputies.
Until recent months, when his health declined, he attended Bethel Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church every Sunday. He also delivered food to a pantry and shuttled children to AWANA, an evangelical youth program.
A Tallahassee native, he met his future wife, Jo-Ann, when she was 19. Her strength and his tolerance made for a perfect match.
"My parents' relationship is, the lioness is the one that goes out to catch the prey," said William Jordan. "But the lion is the one to protect the household."
His brother, Willie, put it another way. "She would let him be the man when he needed to be the man. But we all knew who wore the pants."
Every payday, Mr. Jordan turned his check over to his wife. She managed the books and paid the bills on time.
Mr. Jordan played hard, too. He traveled on numerous cruises with family, where he always looked for shrimp on the menu.
Diagnosed with leukemia in January, Mr. Jordan said he didn't feel sick. He maintained that spirit as his body weakened.
His priorities guide family members now. As Willie Jordan waded through funeral arrangements in recent days, his mother took him aside.
"She was just reminding me, 'Don't forget to pay your mortgage,' " he said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.