They were the people living on your street, eating at your diner, praying in your church. Theirs are stories of accomplishment and pitfall, of humor and imperfection, of the joy and heartache that make us human.
The St. Petersburg Times' Epilogue column regularly memorializes local people who have died. We have one major requirement for our subjects: an interesting life. Here are portions of some favorite Epilogues from the past year.
Frank "Cowboy" Ippolito: April 16, 1921 – April 17, 2008
Mr. Ippolito was a businessman and bolita gambler with a big rap sheet. In the 1960s, he owned La Tropicana in Ybor City, where he ran a bookmaking outfit with Henry Trafficante of Tampa's famed mob family. Mr. Ippolito was arrested 10 times in Florida. Once, said his daughter Frances Ippolito, he took the fall for someone. "What kind of a man is that?" she said. "That's a good man."
Michael J. Murphy: Nov. 24, 1942 – April 30, 2008
Mr. Murphy was a piano virtuoso quietly living in Pasco's Bayonet Point. Built like a middle linebacker, he reeled off Broadway show tunes on command for neighbors. In elementary school, he once played for Oscar Hammerstein. He could hear a song once and memorize it.
Bobby Smith: Sept. 8, 1923 – May 2, 2008
Smith, who lived as male, was born female. He begrudgingly wore dresses as a youngster, and in high school, cut his hair and dressed like a man. Smith endured humiliation by police in the 1940s. He lived in Tampa with partner Kay Thompson. Together, they marched for rights in Washington, lobbied council leaders and mortgaged their house to help build Metropolitan Community Church of Tampa.
Gee Gee Engesser: Aug. 6, 1926 – July 15, 2008
Ms. Engesser was born into the circus. She learned to perform aerial acts, hanging from swinging ladders. At 18, she joined the Cole Bros. Circus, where she balanced atop two horses hitched in a line and rode standing. Ms. Engesser, who lived in Seffner, owned cougars, leopards, bears, lions, horses, donkeys and elephants. In 2007, the Ringling Museum inducted her as a circus celebrity.
Henry "Barefoot Stew" McDonald: Feb. 20, 1925 – Aug. 26, 2008
As a Depression child, Mr. McDonald dumped his shoes under a bush to be like friends. He flew Army bombers and raced stock cars barefoot. In Tampa, he became an accomplished barefoot waterskier. He walked in snow, on cement, even in Bern's Steak House without shoes. When police nabbed him for riding motorcycles barefoot, he steadfastly defended his right to free feet.
Ella Mary Holmes: March 19, 1917 – Aug. 29, 2008
Mrs. Holmes grew up during segregation singing at funerals. In St. Petersburg, she drove a Cadillac and had powdered skin, red lips and dozens of hats. She saw operas at the Palladium and attended graduations just to hear Pomp and Circumstance. She regularly acquired Florida Orchestra tickets and proudly escorted kids from the Happy Workers Children's Center to the front row.
Mae Alice Frison: March 24, 1908 – Oct. 17, 2008
Mrs. Frison loved the Tampa Bay Rays. She sent letters to the team, telling "her boys" she was rooting for them. When she turned 100, the Rays gave her a personalized jersey. In the hospital intensive care unit, she watched a Rays-Red Sox game that notoriously turned sour for Tampa Bay. Mrs. Frison fell asleep with her boys in the lead that night and never woke up.
Taft Richardson: Sept. 2, 1943 – Nov. 30, 2008
Mr. Richardson, a Tampa folk artist, sculpted animals' bones into shapes — a crucifix, a crane, a fish, a cobra, a lizard, the head of John the Baptist. It started in his 20s, when he imagined a giraffe in a plate of beef ribs. He devoted his life to teaching at-risk kids to paint, sculpt, dance and grow plants. They frequented his home, sculpting bones or painting rainbow designs on the walls.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.