ST. PETERSBURG — Like the secret ingredients of his barbecue sauce, Timothy "Big Tim" Walters chose his friends carefully. For everyone else, he asked only one thing: leave him alone.
"He did not play," said longtime friend Elzo Atwater. "He was straight, no-nonsense business."
The owner of Big Tim's Bar-B-Que, a restaurant he opened in 1968 and replicated in several mostly successful ventures, Walters attracted hungry admirers and at least a few enemies over 41 years. Despite arrests over the years on charges of assault, burglary and racketeering, Walters will most likely be remembered by locals for his garlic-and-molasses barbecue.
Mr. Walters died Saturday at St. Anthony's Hospital. He was 66 and had heart trouble and diabetes.
"He was a shrewd businessman," said Richard Escobar, a Tampa lawyer who was representing Mr. Walters on a 2005 racketeering charge. "If he saw a legal opportunity to make some money, he took it. A lot of times, that rubs people the wrong way."
Mr. Walters also invested in real estate, Escobar said. He owned an auto repair shop next door to Big Tim's at 530 34th St. S, which authorities claim was operated as a chop shop.
His supporters paint a portrait of a misunderstood man who donated food and money to churches and who would give an unemployed person a chance.
Mr. Walters grew up in Gainesville and went on to play football at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Teammates knew him as "Mean Big Tim," Mr. Walters told the Times in a rare 1977 interview.
He followed a girlfriend to St. Petersburg in 1964. He started a janitorial service before investing his savings into a restaurant on Tangerine Avenue and 31st Street S. Over the years, he opened three more restaurants in St. Petersburg and one in Tampa.
He relaxed with trusted friends who didn't want to borrow money or meddle in his affairs.
In 1976, he was accused of assaulting a fire inspector who told Mr. Walters to clean his grill once a month instead of once a year. More recently, according to court documents, Mr. Walters warned a witness not to steal from him, saying he had "killers out there who will (mess) you up, break your legs and arms."
"My temper?" Mr. Walters said in the 1977 interview. "Sure I've got a temper. I know it. It's a hell of a temper. I just don't want people messing with me."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.