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Larry Hoffman was captain of the ship in every part of life

TREASURE ISLAND — Larry Hoffman took charge of every situation he faced. It was his nature.

He advised Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf in the first Gulf War. In retirement, he captained charter fishing boats, organized dozens of fishing tournaments and helped found a charitable organization.

When Mr. Hoffman argued with friends, he was always right, the friends always wrong.

"We called him Huffy because he could get Huffy," said Sid Rice, a fishing buddy and owner of Gators restaurant on John's Pass, out of which Mr. Hoffman ran his charter boats. "When he knew he was right, he was right, and that's all that counted."

Mr. Hoffman, a 26-year Army veteran who played a key role in mobilizing reservists in the first Gulf War, died early Tuesday at Palms of Pasadena Hospital. He was 61.

• • •

A police officer's son, Mr. Hoffman grew up in Saginaw, Mich., and played football at Michigan State University before enlisting in the Army.

As a special forces operative, he served two tours in Vietnam, the leader of a Green Beret team.

After returning from Vietnam and finishing college, he got a job as an Army Reserves recruiter, then worked his way up through the ranks: a position at the Army Reserve headquarters in St. Louis; a window office at the Pentagon, as the right-hand man to the Army Reserve chief. An insider to President George H.W. Bush and adviser to Schwarzkopf.

"You've got guys who can fire ideas all over the wall, and Larry would pull out the one idea that would work," said retired Army Lt. Col. Joe Thomann.

For several years, he worked on ensuring that reserve forces could be mobilized quickly. That came in handy during the first Gulf War, when large numbers of reservists were called out of their civilian lives to serve.

"We'd never reached that deep down before," Thomann said. "We always called up units. This time we called up individuals."

At the height of Desert Storm, Mr. Hoffman worked 12-hour shifts at MacDill Air Force Base as chief adviser for the Army Reserve, a newly created position, Thomann said. His temperament suited the job.

"When Larry got p----d, he made things happen," Thomann said. "And he wasn't necessarily nice about it."

After the first Gulf War ended, Mr. Hoffman retired from the Army with the rank of colonel.

He turned his attention to Treasure Island. In 1991, he helped organize the first Suncoast Kingfish Tournament; an idea of Mr. Hoffman's led Rice to initiate Treasure Island Charities. Mr. Hoffman ran dozens of kingfish tournaments over the years, directing proceeds to charities benefiting children and the environment.

He wrote an enthusiastic fishing column for the St. Petersburg Times, in which he reported fishing conditions and advised on strategy.

"The biggest challenge is deciding what to fish for," he wrote in November, having established that offshore and inshore conditions were all "outstanding," and that "kingfish and Spanish mackerel are busting bait all along our coast."

He didn't like his charter customers who yanked on their reels, especially with grouper on the line.

"He'd yell, 'Don't jerk, just crank! Put the jerk on the other end of the line!' " said Rice, 57.

"He wasn't always the easiest person to live with," said his wife, Cathy Hoffman, 61. "Part of it is that he saw things so clearly, and it was like, 'Can't you get this?' "

• • •

Cathy Hoffman found her husband on the couch at 5 a.m. Tuesday, where he had gone to watch television. Finding his breathing ragged, she called paramedics. He died hours later. Though Mr. Hoffman suffered from sleep apnea, the family does not know his cause of death. Bewildered friends and family members huddled on Tuesday. Mr. Hoffman was active and had many plans, most of which are now being canceled.

But one plan will go on as scheduled: a reunion of the Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, Ga., class of 1968. Mr. Hoffman had been looking forward to it.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

BIOGRAPHY

Larry A. Hoffman

Born: Jan. 4, 1948.

Died: March 3, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Cathy; daughters, Michele Weissman and Margot Das; sister, Susan Campbell; and one granddaughter.

Service: To be arranged.

Larry Hoffman was captain of the ship in every part of life 03/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 9:19am]
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