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Bobbe Karpay, Tampa volunteer, dies at age 76

AVILA — In 1959, Bobbe Karpay and her husband, George, were living on Long Island, raising four young children and surrounded by friends and family.

Then George Karpay, whose homebuilding business was foundering, announced he wanted to move to a small town in West Central Florida, and everyone thought he had lost his mind.

"His family thought he was crazy," said their son, Ken Karpay. "Her family thought he was crazy. They said, 'You're setting yourself up to fail.' But my mother said, 'I believe in you. If this is what you want to do, then I'm behind you.' "

Within weeks, the six members of the Karpay family were living in a tiny house on Davis Islands, and George Karpay began a thriving business that provided new homes for people on Florida's west coast. In the days before civil rights legislation, he was one of the few homebuilders in the area who would sell homes to African-American families.

"And if it hadn't been for my mother," Ken Karpay said, "he never would have had the fortitude to make the move to Tampa."

Mrs. Karpay died June 29, less than two weeks after she was diagnosed with cancer. She was 76.

Like many women of her generation, Mrs. Karpay was primarily a mother and a homemaker. She was energetic and artistic, and often served as the interior designer of her husband's model homes.

She also volunteered tirelessly. Her causes ranged from St. Joseph's Hospital to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center and many Jewish organizations.

"They were raising four children, but both my mother and my father believed very strongly that it was so important to do things for the community," said their daughter Karen Waksman.

Mrs. Karpay often found herself in leadership roles, and she went about her work with a quiet determination. Although she touched countless lives, she wouldn't have wanted awards or recognition.

"She was optimistic and inspirational," Waksman said. "She understood people, and she had a way of inspiring people on an individual basis. That's the way she was with her four children, too. She listened to us and understood us and then inspired us to reach as high as we wanted."

In the 1990s, Mrs. Karpay underwent a kidney transplant. The experience further strengthened her innate optimism.

"She looked at the years after that as her second life," Ken Karpay said. "She was determined to live every day to the fullest."

She had always found beauty in the commonplace, Ken Karpay said. For instance, the family would be driving down the road when Mrs. Karpay would ask to stop. She would stoop and clip some roadside plants that everyone else thought were weeds.

"She'd get them home," her son said, "and we'd see that they were beautiful flowers."

Just 11 days before her death, Mrs. Karpay heard the news that she had cancer and that there was nothing the doctors could do.

"The first thing she did was turn to my father and say, 'I love you very much, and we've had a wonderful 58 years together and raised four wonderful children. My only regret is that we won't have more time together,' " Waksman said.

She declined hospital care, saying she wanted to go to the family's Avila home and spend her last days with her family.

"Our mother was an amazingly positive person, Ken Karpay said. "Not a Pollyanna, but a realist who believed in the wisdom of positive thinking, of laughing at the rain, at finding beauty in rocks and wildflowers, and joy in many simple things."

Besides her husband and her son Ken and daughter Karen, Mrs. Karpay is survived by her mother, Anne Denenberg, her son Barry, her daughter Ellen Karpay-Brody, her brothers Byron, Bruce and Steve Denenberg, and 10 grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at

Bobbe Karpay, Tampa volunteer, dies at age 76 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 4:30am]
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