RIVERVIEW — Paul King took being a "people person" to an art form.
There was no such thing as a quick trip to the store with Mr. King, who passed away Aug. 8. He wanted to meet everybody he passed in the aisles.
"He couldn't stand not knowing someone," his wife Joan King said. "We'd go to Walmart, and I'd have a list. I'd want to get this, this and this and leave. But he would start a conversation with everyone he saw. He wanted to know something about everybody."
His personality was so disarming that the strangers he engaged in conversation enjoyed the encounters as much as Mr. King did. On one Walmart trip, an exasperated Joan King, wanting to get out of the store and go home, told her husband, "You know, Paul, not every single person wants to talk to you."
"Oh, yes we do," said someone down the aisle whom Mr. King had met just moments before.
Mr. King had battled cancer and congestive heart failure for about 18 years, but he never let it get him down, his wife said. It was only in the past few months that his illness became obvious to his friends.
He was 78 when he died.
He was born in Manitowoc, Wis., and showed phenomenal energy even as a child. He played two or three sports every year all the way through school and was active in the Boy Scouts and just about every extracurricular activity that was available.
After college, he moved to La Crosse, Wis., and took a paid position with the Boy Scouts. Because of his skills as a leader and organizer, the city hired him to coordinate its first Oktoberfest, That was more than 50 years ago, and the event has continued ever since.
His success in La Crosse led to a job as general manager of a large annual festival called Summerfest in Milwaukee. It was there that he met Joan, his second wife.
He later became general manager of the Illinois State Fair, and, in 1975, came to Hillsborough County to be general manager of the Florida State Fair. He oversaw the move from its home in downtown to the current Florida State Fairgrounds.
He only had a short tenure with the fair, but Mr. King and his wife decided that they wanted to make this area their home for the rest of their lives. They bought a house along the Alafia River, and Mr. King worked as a consultant for fairs and festivals around the country.
He also started volunteering with an organization called SHARE that provided low-cost food to its members as long as they performed charity work and community service regularly.
"That's the part he liked about it," his wife said, "that it promoted volunteerism."
He eventually took a paying job with SHARE and worked there for 10 years until the program ended.
He retired in 2001 and spent the past 10 years traveling and doing what he did best, meeting new people.
His neighbor George Matarese became one of his most frequent companions in recent years. When Matarese and his family moved into the King's neighborhood, Mr. King was the first to welcome him, and they became close friends immediately.
"We only knew each other six years, but it seems like longer, it seems like 20, because we got so close so fast," Matarese said. "That was the kind of person he was."
At his memorial service, people Mr. King had met only once several years ago showed up. Their single encounter had made a lasting impression.
"He took the time to make every single person he met feel special," his wife said. "Everybody wanted to be Paul's best friend."
Aside from his wife of 37 years, Mr. King is survived by his son, Kevin King; his stepchildren, Scott Clendening, Julie Sampogna and Erin Clendening; and his grandchildren, Carly, Katie and Lauren Clendening and Luke and Olivia Sampogna.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]