CLEARWATER — John Thomas Judy had the makings of a great inventor.
He loved to use his hands to tinker with things, or, as his mother would say, blow things up. He took after his father, who had worked with early space technology at NASA.
But Mr. Judy had a problem. He was dyslexic.
School didn't come easily, and his grades suffered. To help him, his mother decided to appeal to his interests. She asked: What kinds of things would he have fun reading about?
He happily rattled off a list: science; hot rods; things in National Geographic and Omni magazines.
"It was life learning," said his wife, Silvia Wood-Judy.
It's how he flourished.
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Mr. Judy, who lived in Clearwater, died Oct. 24. He had no major health problems. He had some recent neck pain and his family suspects an aneurysm. He was 51.
He spent his early years getting mechanical licenses and working for his family's plumbing business. Eventually, he started his own business, which operated by word of mouth.
He became Mr. Fix-It. He could work with floor tiles, water treatment and tanks, electrical wiring — you name it.
"He was fair, he was honest," said his friend and business partner, Jim Alban. "He wanted to give people the best he could give. His motto was, 'Give them more than they expect and charge them fairly.' "
In the 1980s, he began indulging his dream of racing cars. He bought a white 1966 Dodge Coronet and rigged it to run on propane fuel used in barbecue grills. He drag raced it at Sunshine Speedway, racking up many trophies and awards.
In recent years, he worked helping to develop alternative fuels with a company called MagneGas. He traveled the world presenting the work and attending conferences. He successfully converted a 1982 Ferrari, a Honda, a Chrysler, a Chevrolet and a Ford to run on recycled liquid waste.
He was a supreme brain when it came to cars. His phone rang constantly with friends asking for advice.
Once, when a mechanic told his wife's cousin that she needed new transmission cables, she asked Mr. Judy for his take on the problem. Just try some fluid, he told her. She did.
Her car still runs perfectly.
"He explained everything scientifically," said Mrs. Wood-Judy. "He made so many friends that way."
She was one of them. They met through a friend who had employed Mr. Judy as a plumber. Mrs. Wood-Judy needed a handyman. She came away with more.
They married four years ago in Jamaica after Mr. Judy's first marriage ended.
She loved talking to him, laughing with him, learning from him. They traveled to remote nature spots in Florida and around the world. They watched history and mechanics programs. Once, she rode scared in the back of his race car filming him drive. She loved to tease him about his verbose tendencies.
"He was never a 'yes' or 'no' person," she said. "It would drive me crazy. I'd say, 'Can I do this?' He'd go, 'Well, the circumference of the thingamajig … it's not made to hold that, but we can always build a …'"
She called him Boo, and he called her Boo Boo. He gave her a greeting card every three months.
They always looked at each other quietly and said thank you.
"We knew what we were thanking each other for."
He gave her life learning.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8857.