TAMPA — A few weeks ago, a doctor bent over to put a stethoscope on Nat Green's chest.
"You're tall," said Mr. Green, who had been in declining health for several months. "I'll bet you played football. What position did you play?"
Around his house stood numerous trophies from Mr. Green's own playing days, more than 70 years ago.
Since then, he worked as a maintenance man, celebrated the Oakland Raiders and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with his friends and survived a father's worst tragedy — the loss of his only child — all without alcohol, which he had never touched.
Mr. Green, who died Dec. 20 at 96, was talkative, jovial and thrifty.
He had saved throughout his life. "He used to say, 'You never know when hard times are coming,'" said Alliene Robinson, 60, a cousin and caretaker.
Those savings often went to help others in need.
Aside from a 35-year career at Tampa Electric Co., Mr. Green also served 30 years as the custodian of New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church. That's where he was the day a woman with two young children ducked in from East Columbus Drive to escape a downpour.
Her children were hungry and so was she, the woman told him. Mr. Green loaded them into his car and drove them home. He gave the mother $50.
Another time, Robinson said, a pastor was in danger of losing his church to debts. He asked another church to help, but received little money.
The minister then approached Mr. Green, who wrote a check that saved the church from foreclosure.
Nathaniel Green was born in 1916 in Tampa. A star running back for Middleton High, he also led the Tigers to a state basketball championship. Mr. Green attended Florida A&M on an athletic scholarship.
After four years in the Army during World War II, he worked for the Tampa Tribune, then TECO.
He and his wife, the former Wilma Stanley, had a daughter, Pattrese.
The couple were waiting Christmas day in 1995 for Pattrese to arrive. She was waiting at a stoplight on Adamo Drive, wrapped presents and a cake she had baked beside her, when a car slammed into her from the rear. Pattrese Green was 45.
"They were devastated for so long," Robinson said.
Wilma Green died in 2006. Mr. Green kept going. He told his family to eat right and get plenty of rest, and not to drink or smoke.
Beyond that, he didn't really know why he had lived so long. He answered curious inquiries with a quip: "Don't forget to breathe."
Longevity seemed to run in the family. His father, Girard Green, had lived to age 102.
But Mr. Green had started to weaken recently.
More and more during his convalescence, he reminisced about relatives who had died long ago.
He was alert Dec. 20 when Robinson greeted him.
"I said, 'Good morning,'" Robinson recalled. "He said, 'I'm going home.'"
She said she was not confused by the statement — even though Mr. Green made it from his own bed, where he had been receiving hospice care for months.
"He meant his spiritual home," she said.
Mr. Green died 15 minutes later, his cousin said.
A large extended family and many friends attended his funeral service Dec. 29 at Mt. Zion, where a pastor made sure to read the 10th verse of Psalm 90. It was Mr. Green's favorite:
The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.