DAVIS ISLANDS — Over the past 10 years, ever since his car accident, Paul Schwartz had suffered serious bouts of pneumonia. His family even called in LifePath Hospice a few times.
Once, a hospice nurse, sensing that Mr. Schwartz was at the end, leaned over and soothingly whispered, "It's okay. You can go now."
Mr. Schwartz opened his eyes and said, "Go where?"
"That was on a Wednesday," said his daughter Carol Funk. "That Friday he went to happy hour at the Grand Court."
Strength and resilience were at the heart of Mr. Schwartz's character, his family said.
"He was a man's man," said Robert Tropp, the husband of Mr. Schwartz's other daughter, Nancy. "That sounds like a cliche, but that's exactly what he was. And he was a self-made man who pulled himself out of poverty."
Mr. Schwartz finally succumbed to pneumonia on Jan. 17. He was 95.
He was born and raised in Ybor City, the son of a mother and father who immigrated from Austria and Romania, respectively.
He graduated from Plant High School and spent a year at Duke University before he came back to Tampa. His family couldn't afford Duke. He transferred to the University of Tampa, where he lived at home and worked to help with family finances.
He never finished college. He joined the Army Air Corps as World War II loomed.
His family recalls countless colorful stories from his highly decorated military career. He took part in the first daylight bombing of Berlin and became friends with Laurel and Hardy when he flew them around to entertain troops.
One of his favorite military stories, though, was about the time he playfully buzzed Plant High School, in the days before World War II, flying low over the school grounds and causing students to take cover. His commanding officer found out and was not pleased.
"He said that commanding officer probably saved his life," Funk said, "because he switched him from fighters to bombers."
After the war, Mr. Schwartz — who had been the youngest colonel in the Air Corps — came back to Tampa. He bought a company called Concrete Products Co., though he had never worked in the concrete industry before.
"From what I've heard, he slept in his office at first until he made enough money to bring his wife and kids here," Tropp said.
He learned the business as he went along, turned his company into a success and later started Amcom Concrete. He eventually sold both businesses to a British company.
Many people who knew Mr. Schwartz may not have realized how much good he did for other people, Tropp said, because he did it anonymously. Among many other things, he donated the bricks for the Plant gymnasium and paid the college tuition for several of his employees' children.
His wife, Marjorie, was about eight years younger, but she passed away 15 years ago. Mr. Schwartz remained healthy and active until a car accident on Interstate 4 about a decade ago.
"He was too macho to wear his seat belt, I guess," Funk said. "He hit his head on the steering wheel."
Family legend holds that Mr. Schwartz, at age 85, got out of the car and tried to start a fight with the other driver, who had caused the crash. No one's sure if that's true, but it fits Mr. Schwartz's feisty temperament.
The blow to his head led to recurring health problems, including pneumonia.
Since his passing, Mr. Schwartz's daughters have been flooded with calls, messages and visits from people whose lives he touched.
"He was just a great guy," Funk said. "I have no excuse for ever being a bad person, because I had such an amazing dad."
Besides his two daughters, Mr. Schwartz is survived by three grandchildren, two stepgrandsons and a great-grandson.
Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]