NEW SUBURB BEAUTIFUL — Every Monday for 29 years, Hack Mixson would get in his car and deliver food for Meals on Wheels. "I'm going to bring food to the old people," he'd say.
He was 92 when he made his last delivery, just a few weeks ago. Some of the "old people" he took meals to were decades younger.
Mr. Mixson may have been within arm's reach of becoming a centenarian, but family members said he never seemed old. He was active and alert right up until the last few days of his life.
He passed away from natural causes on May 19. His health had been failing recently, but he had only been really ill for a few weeks, his family said.
His death came just two months after his 92nd birthday, and only days after his 62nd wedding anniversary.
In the hospital, a nurse asked him the secret to such a long and successful marriage.
"Love at first sight," he answered.
Mr. Mixson grew up in Charleston, S.C. He had an idyllic childhood that spawned his lifelong love of the outdoors. Fishing, hunting and water sports would forever be a part of his life.
His real name was Marion, but a nanny who cared for him when he was a baby started calling him "Mr. Hacka." No one is sure why she called him that, but a shortened form of the name stuck with him his entire life.
He learned to pilot a plane while he was a teenager. He joined the Army in 1939, and his skills as a pilot helped him get a position with the Army Air Corps in World War II.
His first assignments involved trying to spot German submarines in the Atlantic heading toward the United States.
"We'd ask him, 'Did you ever see any?' and he'd say, 'You bet I did,'…" recalled his wife, Mary.
He later flew bombing missions in Italy, and shortly after the war was honored with the Italian government's Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus for surreptitiously flying Italy's last king, Umberto II, to his coronation.
After the war, Mr. Mixson left the Army and joined the Air Force and was stationed at MacDill Air Force Base. Through mutual friends he met Mary Delany, the society editor for the Tampa Times. They were instantly smitten with each other and married about eight months later.
"He was the best-looking guy around," Mrs. Mixson said, "and he didn't lose any of his looks as he got older."
The couple began the nomadic life of a military family. It's a hard way to live for some youngsters, but Mr. Mixson had a way of making his children feel privileged to have that lifestyle.
"Everywhere we went, my dad would make it seem like an adventure," said daughter Mary Lewis. "It didn't matter if it was Tokyo or Kansas. He made every place sound so exciting that we couldn't wait to get there. He was just the greatest dad."
While stationed at MacDill, he fell in love not only with his soon-to-be wife but with Tampa. When he retired from the Air Force, he brought his family back here. They settled in New Suburb Beautiful, not far from where his wife had grown up.
He started a second career as a real estate broker, and for nearly 20 years ran his own commercial real estate office. His wife got her real estate license and worked alongside him for many years.
It was just in the last days of his life that he was hospitalized. Even then, his mind was sharp and he was in good spirits, his family said. He quickly endeared himself to the hospital staff, at least one of whom came to his funeral.
His wife and his daughter took turns sitting with him in the hospital.
"I'm so grateful for that time," his daughter said. "I was able to tell him how much he was loved and he said, 'I know that's true.' "
Besides his wife and his daughter, Mr. Mixson is survived by sons Thomas and Clarke and four grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.