SEFFNER — Michael Brown spent the first half of his life discovering who he was. The second half, he searched for permanence.
He grew up in Seffner, where as a boy he embraced poetry, line dancing and the Baptist church. Later, he accepted himself as an openly gay man and never looked back.
Mr. Brown died on Thursday of unknown causes. He was 29.
His mother, Pamela Butler, was barely 16 years old when she gave birth to her son. By the time he was the same age, Mr. Brown reached a milestone of his own.
"He just looked at me and said, 'Mom, I'm gay.' " Butler said. "I said, 'Yeah, I know.' He said, 'I figured you did.' "
That same year, Mr. Brown sought out his biological father and a side of the family he had not known.
He worked at an RV park and a restaurant, Angelina's, where he became a manager. He helped his mother with expenses and doted on a 9-year-old nephew Butler was raising. He took his nephew fishing, to Busch Gardens or Cub Scout activities — you name it.
"He would call and say, 'I'm coming to get Jimmy,' " Butler said.
He proudly took his mother to gay bars, and told his friends they could all deal with it. Most of them could.
His loyalty made for clear priorities, no matter what. Once, a stranger called out on a sidewalk to his cousin, Laurie, "What's up, Jessica Simpson?"
Mr. Brown stepped forward and said, "Nothing you'll ever have."
All the while, he searched for stability. He told Zachary Worthington, an ex-partner of five years, that he wanted to be settled by age 30 with a house and financial security.
On his 29th birthday party in June, he reminded himself aloud of the plan that seemed slow to arrive.
"One more year," he said.
Mr. Brown never got that year. On Monday, he and a friend visited an aunt to check out her outfit for a planned 50th birthday party. At Valentine's Nightclub later that evening, Mr. Brown showed no signs that anything was wrong.
But when a roommate tried to wake him up on Tuesday, Mr. Brown was unresponsive. He was transferred to Brandon Regional Hospital, where he died.
To help the family financially, Hillsboro Memorial Funeral Home is picking up most of the tab for Mr. Brown's funeral arrangements. The Greater Seffner Area Chamber of Commerce has spurred other businesses to contribute flowers and cash.
His death leaves a void. "If he had one flaw," Worthington said, "it was that he never knew how many people actually loved him."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2431.