BRANDON — Carl Conte spent hours in his "pineapple plantation," pruning, weeding and plucking from the lush tropical garden he grew in his back yard.
He could have bought his collard and mustard greens from the grocery store like his neighbors, but the 83-year-old World War II veteran and retired Tampa fire captain hated the thought of sitting inside doing nothing.
In 2006, more than 32 years after his retirement, he was working as a crossing guard at Brooker Elementary for fun and told the St. Petersburg Times, "I've tried not working. But I can't stand it."
Mr. Conte died Nov. 24 after a brief battle with lung cancer.
Mr. Conte was born on Sept. 30, 1925, in Tampa to Sicilian immigrants and was one of seven children, said his wife of 59 years, Margaret Conte.
As a youngster, he worked two jobs, leaving Jefferson High School daily to work as a clerk in a local grocery store and at a shoe store.
When he turned 17, his mother sent him to Marlboro, N.Y., to work on an uncle's apple farm to keep him out of World War II. But on his 18th birthday, he walked to the nearest town and enlisted in the Navy.
"So much for what his mother wanted," Margaret Conte said. "He was determined to go, even though he already had two brothers already in the military."
Mr. Conte served as a guard on a supply ship in Europe and the South Pacific.
He met the future Mrs. Conte on a blind date set up by a cousin shortly after the war.
The two married in 1948 and had the first of their four children in 1950.
Mr. Conte climbed the ranks at Station 3 at Platt Street and Magnolia Avenue in Hyde Park, eventually becoming a captain.
In his 24 years as a firefighter, his only injury came from stepping on a nail on the roof of a burning house. "He was never burned," Margaret Conte said. "He was too cautious for that."
After he retired, Mr. Conte tended his garden and his crosswalk to pass the days.
Fruits, vegetables and peacocks peacefully coexisted in his pristine garden.
Daughter Cathey Conte said her father could be fierce, like the time a neighbor's dog tried to attack her when she was a tot.
"I screamed, and my father just rushed out of the house and told the dog to get," she said. "I will never forget that day."
But Mr. Conte put love into everything he did.
As a crossing guard, he would write down children's names so he could greet them as they crossed, and he carried dog biscuits for the neighborhood dogs.
"He made a point to know everyone," she said.
Viewing and memorial services will be held Monday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Stowers Funeral Home in Brandon.
Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813)226-3373 or firstname.lastname@example.org.