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Friends, family pay tribute to Bernie Powell, former Biltmore owner

CLEARWATER — Bernie Powell's legacy goes far beyond the historic hotel he restored and the millions he has contributed to the community and elsewhere.

Those who paid their respects to Mr. Powell, who died Aug. 21 at age 96, say he taught them lessons of generosity, faith and love.

More than 200 friends, family and representatives of charitable organizations attended his funeral service Friday morning at St. Cecelia Church in Clearwater.

The Catholic service was followed by an afternoon reception in the Tiffany Room at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa, the hotel he owned for 44 years and re-established as one of Florida's grand resorts.

Through the $27.5-million sale of the hotel in 1990, Mr. Powell was able to devote his life to philanthropy.

"His devotion and faith were inspiring," said Monsignor Aiden Foynes, who led the service in Mr. Powell's honor.

Foynes said Mr. Powell once told him: "I have been blessed with some of this world's treasures. I know that God would want me to share with those who are in need."

While Mr. Powell valued helping others, he was primarily devoted to his family, said Mr. Powell's grandson, Matthew Archangeli. "His wife, Mary Ann, was the love of his life," said Archangeli, 43.

Mr. Powell spent many hours each day by her bedside, holding her hand and talking to her, Archangeli said.

Toward the end of the service, the sound system squealed for nearly a minute.

At the reception, Powell family caregivers, who huddled around a table in the Tiffany room, said they were convinced it was Mr. Powell getting in the last word.

"When the sound system went off, that was Bernie," said nurse Donna Murray, 59.

Most of the caregivers look after Mary Ann, 88, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about nine years ago. They took care of Mr. Powell, too, as his health declined, they said.

Murray said Mr. Powell taught her and others a lot about life. First thing in the morning and last thing at night, Mr. Powell told Mary Ann he loved her, Murray said.

"You couldn't help but see the love and devotion he had for Mary Ann," she said. "He taught me to be a true partner to my husband."

Alberta Evans, a caregiver for the Powells, used to work as a dishwasher at the hotel in the 1960s.

"Christmastime he gave us $5," Evans said. "Back then, that was big money."

After she became Mr. Powell's caregiver a couple of years ago, the two had many spiritual conversations.

"We talked every night about the Bible and giving," Evans said. "He told me anytime you need anything just ask."

Mr. Powell made good on that promise. "When I had a flat tire, he wrote a check," she said. "When I had a death in the family, he made a donation."

Several at the reception described Mr. Powell as a consummate gentleman.

"He always had a pleasant word for me," said Roger Neal, Mr. Powell's personal masseur.

The man who did so much to help others didn't suffer, his grandson said.

Archangeli said his grandfather's health took a turn for the worse several months ago after he caught a cold.

But he died in peace at his Belleair Shore home.

"He was looking out over the beautiful gulf and simply took one breath and not another," Archangeli said.

Lorri Helfand can be reached at lorri@sptimes.com or 445-4155.

Friends and family remember Powell

"He used to call me if he ever saw an injured pelican. He didn't want to see any creature in trouble."

Ralph Heath, founder of the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary

"If I didn't call him every two weeks he would call me to make sure I was feeling well. He was always thinking about the other person."

George Mallory, 87, fellow philanthropist

"When he came to the house, he always played a little poker and he always made sure that you won." (Powell usually put in five bucks.)

Kevin Morse, 56, nephew

"He had quite a passion for growing roses. Even though he had a lot of education he was a man of the earth."

Roger Neal, Powell's personal masseur for 23 years

Friends, family pay tribute to Bernie Powell, former Biltmore owner 09/05/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 9, 2008 4:55pm]
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