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Insurance executive, local sailor William McElmurray dies at 86

Business executive William McElmurray discovered his life’s passion when he was very young: sailing on the waters of Tampa Bay. Later, he competed in races in the Atlantic and the gulf. He was chosen King of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at only 27.

Special to the Times

Business executive William McElmurray discovered his life’s passion when he was very young: sailing on the waters of Tampa Bay. Later, he competed in races in the Atlantic and the gulf. He was chosen King of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla at only 27.

DAVIS ISLANDS — He was one of those lucky people who found his life's passion when he was very young.

When William McElmurray was growing up in Hyde Park, he and his friends formed a group called the Newport Navy.

"They'd take the streetcar to Ybor City and pick up wood scraps from the casket company," said his son, Clay McElmurray. "They'd use the wood to build sailboats."

The Newport Navy sailed in the waters of Hillsborough Bay, near their homes. McElmurray never lost his love for the water and the wind and spent much of his adult life competing in races in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. McElmurray passed away May 1. He suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and had been very ill for several weeks. He succumbed to a heart attack. He was 86.

Mr. McElmurray was successful as a sailor and captained a boat that won the Lipton Cup.

But he was just as successful in business. Along with his partner Bill Poe, who would become mayor of Tampa, Mr. McElmurray built a successful insurance business, first called Poe, Driscoll and McElmurray. It was later renamed Poe & Associates.

Except for his college and military years, Mr. McElmurray lived his entire life in South Tampa. He was senior class president at Plant High School and then went on to the University of Florida.

World War II interrupted his college career. He joined the Army Air Corps and trained to fly the P-51. But the war ended before he saw combat.

"That was a great disappointment for him," his son said. "He really wanted to go."

Instead he returned to UF and finished his degree, then returned to Tampa and started working for an insurance company. In 1950, he and his wife Lois built a home on Davis Islands where they raised their son and daughter and lived for the rest of their lives.

Despite the pressures of running a business, and a hobby that often took him away from home for days at a time, Mr. McElmurray always had plenty of time with his family. His son would often serve beside him in sailing races.

"I spent a lot more time with my dad than most kids," Clay McElmurray said. "A lot of those places he went, Mexico, Bermuda, I was right there with him."

His daughter, Wendy Brinkley, recalled accompanying him when she was 9 and he delivered a boat from the Caribbean back to Florida. He would stop in pristine coves in tiny islands along the way.

"He was a great dad," she said. "We would always have one fantastic family vacation every year. And by fantastic I don't mean it was expensive. Sometimes we'd all be in a pup tent in the mountains. But we always had great times, and they made great memories."

Like so many people in South Tampa, Mr. McElmurray was actively involved in Gasparilla every year. He was just 27 in 1949 when he became King of Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, an honor usually reserved for older men. He lived 60 years after that, but until the end of his life he was treated with a bit of deference in certain circles because of that honor.

"In South Tampa, that's royalty," his son said.

Mr. McElmurray retired from the insurance business in 1987. He spent a lot of his post-business life on the water. He had always sailed on other people's boats as a crew member, but finally bought his own boat and continued his competitive sailing activities until age and health caused him to slow down.

Besides his son and daughter, Mr. McElmurray is survived by five grandchildren.

Insurance executive, local sailor William McElmurray dies at 86 05/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2009 4:31am]
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