DUNEDIN — Members of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church tend to dress well on Sundays. Suits for men, colorful fashions for women. Archie Lee Boatman wore a suit that hung limply on his long, lean body.
"It was an old suit, but it was a suit," said Leroy Hardy Jr., 44, one of the church's ministers. He called people ma'am and sir, and paused to open doors for anyone nearby.
Mr. Boatman, who didn't say much but worked hard all his life, died Jan. 20 in a nursing home. He was 77.
"He was just kind of a plain citizen who just worked and minded his own business," Hardy said.
But if you needed a hand, Hardy said, "You said, 'Hey, Mr, Archie Lee!' and he'd help you as best he could."
Archie Lee Boatman grew up in rural Madison, near the Georgia border. He was one of 12 children. In his younger days, he worked on a family farm. In the late 1960s, he lugged metal garbage cans on his back, whether they carried 20 pounds of trash inside or 200 pounds.
"They give the black man a hard way to go," said Willie C. Hadley, Mr. Boatman's former brother-in-law and fellow sanitation worker. Their protests, along with those of other sanitation workers in Pinellas County, helped alter those harsh conditions.
Hadley, 87, later started his own lawn service and hired Mr. Boatman.
According to Hadley, Mr. Boatman had been married and divorced but had no children of his own. He spent years working for a tree service. He had some brushes with the law, stemming from four DUIs, from 1967 to 2001.
His death left Largo funeral home A Life Tribute, which handles indigent deaths, looking for family members. They found his only surviving sibling, Hattie Boatman Smith, in Miami.
Smith, 87, said she was "as close as sister and brother could be" and that she had not seen Mr. Boatman in three years.
Funeral director Nathan Hobson of A Life Tribute said the home told Smith and an extended family member about a county financial assistance program. Since neither relative wanted to apply for benefits, Mr. Boatman's body will likely be cremated, Hobson said.
After 120 days, in accordance with county procedure, his remains will be taken 3 miles offshore and scattered in the gulf without ceremony.
But his church will remember him today.
"I will zero in on someone who was not born in this area but came to this area," said the Rev. Clem Bell, pastor of Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church, "and because of his good basic human principles made a lasting impression on many people. He was not a lazy person, he was not known as a troublemaker. He is known as a hard-working and honest man who liked to have fun.
"Most people, when the story is done, they don't have a legacy like that."
Researchers Shirl Kennedy and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.