SUN CITY CENTER — Bob Foster usually got out of bed by 5:30 a.m. to take his 2-mile walk around his retirement community. He had stayed active all his life, as if he found movement more comfortable than rest.
Mr. Foster had capped off a career in the textbook business traveling the country. He visited Europe many times in retirement, hitting several countries in succession.
His idea of retirement included 10-hour shifts as a dispatcher and driver for the Sun City Center Emergency Squad, tending to patients who experienced everything from fainting spells to heart attacks to car crashes.
His hands kept moving even as he sat, knitting scores of cross-stitch portraits and scenes that took months to complete.
Mr. Foster, a busy man with a calm center, died Friday at South Bay Hospital. He was 81.
He had been moving and adapting all his life. Mr. Foster was born in 1930 in Saginaw, Mich., the youngest of six children. He was an infant when his mother died and went to live with cousins.
The aunt who had cared for him died. He served four years in the Air Force during the Korean War, including more than a year on tiny Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean.
Mr. Foster married Nancy Bonvouloir, whom he dated in high school. They had six children.
He graduated from the University of Michigan, then managed textbooks at a campus bookstore. He spent the last 15 years of his career in Lincoln, Neb., traveling and buying college textbooks.
That is where his interest began in a form of cross-stitching, sewing X-shaped stitches through evenly spaced holes to create patterns.
"You might be traveling through a big city," said Nancy Foster, 79. "You've worked all day and you're exhausted. You come into your hotel room. You don't want to go down to a bar. So instead of trying to read a little or watch a little TV, you do this."
Mr. Foster sewed floral designs and pastoral scenes over printed patterns. Over time, he began stitching Santas as Christmas gifts. For a daughter's wedding, he cross-stitched Georges Seurat's A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
"I know women loved to do it," his wife said. "I've never met another man who took the pain and the carefulness that Bob did."
He undid all mistakes. "I'd say, 'Honey, it's just sky. So your cloud is a little bit lopsided. He'd say, 'That's not what the pattern is.' "
Though he seemed to have slowed down the past year, Mr. Foster had seemed in good health. Two days before he went to the hospital, he had taken his morning walk.
Sympathy cards flooding in invariably mention his kindness. Mr. Foster had recently completed a Santa Claus cross-stitch for a long-lost cousin from his childhood. Stitching in the folds of Santa's suit tested Mr. Foster's eyesight, calling for subtle distinctions in differing shades of red thread.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.