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Life was a rush; the end, just as sudden

ST. PETERSBURG — Robert Twitty believed life was short. He told his fiance that weekends are like marbles in a jar. He had calculated how many he had left, based on an average life expectancy of 75.

“He liked numbers,” said Barbara Denny, Mr. Twitty’s fiance. “You start adding up those marbles, there aren’t many. His goal was to live life to its fullest for as long as you have.”

As it turns out, Mr. Twitty’s estimate of how long he had left was short. He died Sunday of a heart attack. He was 58.

But in that time, he had indeed lived life to the fullest. He retired early. He went on adventures. He devoted almost all his hours to one of three things: his sons, his fiance and baseball.

His last day was emblematic of his philosophy of filling every hour exactly as he wanted.

10 a.m. Mr. Twitty, who often slept until 11 a.m., was up an hour early. He grabbed his spot on the couch and settled in with a couple of newspapers and the remote.

His living room in Bayway Isles, which overlooked the Intracoastal Waterway, became a command post most Sunday mornings. Mr. Twitty read the papers and watched ESPN, so long as they were talking about baseball.

Joey Saunders, 15, a friend of Mr. Twitty’s son Danny, had spent the night. Boys crashed there so often, neighbors called his house “the locker room.” There was always something in the fridge — at least Kool-Aid and enough ham for sandwiches.

1:40 p.m. Mr. Twitty and his older son, Bobby, 17, were in their regular seats behind home plate at Tropicana Field as the Rays took on the Cleveland Indians. Mr. Twitty had season tickets and wanted his sons to do their homework and also make it to the games — a feat they managed. The Rays won 7-5.

Mr. Twitty was in high school himself when he began to attract the eye of baseball scouts. An All-County standout in football and baseball at Dixie Hollins High School, he could have tried out as a pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds.

But he turned down their offer and went to college on a two-sport scholarship at Franklin College — then abandoned that, too, for a business degree from the University of Florida.

He attended his sons’ baseball games at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, sitting behind home plate. Usually, he found something to yell about. “He had a short fuse,” said Danny Twitty, 15.

6 p.m. At St. Paul’s Catholic Church, Bishop Robert Lynch anointed Danny Twitty’s forehead, tracing the shape of a cross with an oil-tipped finger. Mr. Twitty wore a coat and tie to his son’s confirmation, breaking a rule he had set for himself four years earlier that he would never wear a tie again. He had worked for other companies as a mortgage or commercial lender before starting R.J. Twitty Co. in 1987. The business was a success, enough to retire when he sold it four years ago.

Mr. Twitty supported his ex-wife’s desire to bring up the boys Catholic, but had stopped going to church himself.

After the confirmation, he joked to his son and Joel Saunders, who was also being confirmed, that he had been checking baseball scores on his cell phone during the service.

6 p.m. After months of waiting, Barbara Denny had a contract in hand. Someone was going to buy her house. Denny, 52, had been dating Mr. Twitty for eight years, ever since he coached her son on a championship Little League team. For more than two years, they have been remodeling his house. They planned to live together, and to travel.

9 p.m. Back home, Mr. Twitty and his sons watched the season finale of Survivor. Mr. Twitty liked the cutthroat intensity of the contestants, even though he didn’t care who won. The show also frequently confirmed his hypothesis that “99 percent of the world is stupid.”

They called Alberico’s on St. Pete Beach for a delivery. Mr. Twitty had lasagna. After the meal, Mr. Twitty complained of chest pains, which he attributed to acid reflux. He sent Bobby to CVS for an antacid.

The boys retreated to their bedrooms to get ready for school. 10:30 p.m. From his bedroom, Bobby Twitty heard his father call his name. Loudly.

When he responded, his brother said, Mr. Twitty was lying on the his bathroom floor, unable to speak. They called 911.

11:10 p.m. A chaplain walked into the waiting room. Mr. Twitty was in critical condition, the chaplain said. Five minutes later, a doctor emerged and told the family that Mr. Twitty had died.

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

Biography: Robert James Twitty Born: June 26, 1950 Died: May 17, 2009 Survivors: Sons, Bobby and Danny; brother, Bert Twitty. Service: 6 p.m. Thursday, Brett Funeral Home, 4801 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.

Life was a rush; the end, just as sudden 05/19/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 19, 2009 11:34pm]
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