ST. PETERSBURG — Tommy Allen started stealing cigarette butts when he was 8 years old. Several of his nine siblings in rural Georgia stole whole cigarettes, but Tommy contented himself with the 2-inch butts his mother left in the ashtray. All the siblings would rather take a mass beating than allow even one of them to snitch.
Mr. Allen was born in the middle of the pack. They called him Catfish.
"He was scrawny and little," said his sister, Becky Perusse, 56. "He had it rough."
But despite a top weight of 130 pounds, Mr. Allen could handle his business. Once, on a construction site, a couple of tile setters wanted to work where Mr. Allen was still hanging drywall. Mr. Allen asked them to wait, but they started laying tile anyway.
According to partner Dan Fitzgerald, who saw it, Mr. Allen picked up the men's tools and heaved them off a fourth-floor balcony.
Mr. Allen died on Thursday of viral pneumonia. He was 57.
They met when Mr. Allen was 22 and working as a bouncer at Rene's Lounge, a Tampa gay bar. Mr. Allen refused to admit Fitzgerald, who was underage. Over time, their mutual dislike became attraction. They started the drywall business and fixed up houses to sell.
At home, Fitzgerald cooked; Mr. Allen loaded the dishwasher and did laundry.
"He had a certain way of folding T-shirts and socks," said Fitzgerald, 54.
Mr. Allen did not display affection openly. "There were 500,000 people at Gay Pride," Fitzgerald said. "Even then, he would not hold my hand."
But Mr. Allen stayed with Fitzgerald for 34 years. Only Fitzgerald and Mr. Allen's brother Ike merited that kind of loyalty. The reason dates back to a night in Tampa in 1968. Dwight "Ike" Allen, then 15, saw a commercial truck. The keys were in the ignition. He got in. He picked up his older brother, Tommy, and two friends. When Tampa police tried to pull them over, a chase ensued. Shots were fired. The vehicles crashed.
When it was over, Ike lay paralyzed from a bullet in the back. Tommy told police that he — not Ike — had stolen the truck.
"I told him, 'Don't ever blame yourself,' " said Ike Allen, 56, who remains paralyzed from the waist down. " 'If I hadn't been the one that took the vehicle, none of this ever would have happened.' "
But Mr. Allen did blame himself, his family said. He visited his brother frequently in Seffner.
In recent months, Mr. Allen's health took a downward turn. His lungs, after decades of smoking, succumbed to rapidly worsening pneumonia.
He left his estate to Fitzgerald, with instructions Fitzgerald said he intends to honor. If Ike Allen is still alive when Fitzgerald dies, he will inherit the couple's combined assets.
Andrew Meacham can be reached
at [email protected]
or (813) 5661-2431.