Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Rex F. Estelle

Rex Estelle turned his life around, helped others do the same

ST. PETERSBURG — Rex Estelle faced a hard choice in 1981 when he was involuntarily confined to what was then Horizon Hospital on U.S. 19.

Which, he asked himself, would he rather do: live or die?

He was 43 years old. He had worked in a mattress factory and an oil refinery. He had slept in the woods and in prison cells, burned through an inheritance and three marriages.

Now he had been Baker Acted after a suicide attempt by drug overdose. Mr. Estelle may not have known it then, but his life was changing for the better.

He grew up in Lansing, Mich., the son of two hard-drinking parents. The last sustained period of cheerfulness in Mr. Estelle's younger years seems to have been time served with the Army in Germany, from which he was discharged honorably.

"After that, his life seemed to go completely in the toilet," said sister Nellie Estelle, 68, a lawyer. "From my own memory he was convicted at last five times, usually of property crimes to support his drug and drinking habit."

The lows kept getting lower. Several months into Mr. Estelle's first prison term, his mother fatally shot herself. He was later arrested for what a newspaper called "safe cracking."

"It was just a bunch of drunks who stole a safe from the back of a bar," said wife Patti Estelle, 70. "They took it into the woods and beat on it until they finally got it open."

They met in 1981, the same year Mr. Estelle got sober and started working at First Baptist Church. He became head custodian at the church, serving there for 29 years. During that time, he reached out to other addicts and alcoholics, often in a blunt way.

"He changed the lives of countless numbers of men and women, bringing them off the street and putting them on a path that was excellent," said Austin Ganly, a pastor at the church on Gandy Boulevard.

Patti Estelle recalled standing in line to vote in a recent primary when a panhandler approached them, reeking of alcohol. Mr. Estelle gently grasped the man's shoulders, looked him in the eye and said, "I have a solution for a guy like you."

Stop drinking and get support, he advised.

Rex and Patti Estelle married in 1990. In recent years, he suffered from lung cancer, a possible consequence of hepatitis C, his wife said.

She held his hand the last night of his life, telling him to let go and let God welcome him. Mr. Estelle died Dec. 18, at home. He was 72.

At his funeral service Dec. 22 at First Baptist Church, Nelli Estelle listened to many testimonials about her brother helping addicts and alcoholics.

The stories reminded her of an original painting Mr. Estelle sent her in 1983.

"It was a burned-out stump of a tree," Nellie Estelle said. "It was ragged around the edge, maybe it had been hit by lightning."

In the middle of the stump grew a flower. "Because he was getting sober then, I just attach a lot of meaning to it," she said.

.Biography

Rex F. Estelle

Born: May 27, 1938.

Died: Dec. 18, 2010.

Survivors: Wife Patti; and sister Nelli Estelle.

Rex Estelle turned his life around, helped others do the same 12/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, December 31, 2010 5:11pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Fox renewed O'Reilly contract despite knowing of allegations

    Nation

    NEW YORK (AP) — The Fox News Channel says the company knew a news analyst planned to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill O'Reilly when it renewed the popular personality's contract in February.

    Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly appears on the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," in New York. O'Reilly has lost his job at Fox News Channel in April following reports that several women had been paid millions of dollars to keep quiet about harassment allegations. [Associated Press file]
  2. Conviction overturned 30 years later in neo-Nazi murder case

    Criminal

    TAMPA — A judge on Friday overturned the murder conviction of Dean McKee now that new evidence has raised doubt about McKee's guilt in a Tampa slaying that occurred nearly three decades ago when he was 16.

    In 1987, a St. Petersburg Times reporter interviewed Dean McKee for a story about young skinheads in Tampa. [Times | 1987]
  3. Experts have some theories on who's carrying out Seminole Heights killings

    Crime

    The words serial killer tend to conjure an image of a middle-aged white man, likely a loner. He stabs or chokes or strangles, murdering up close for the thrill, straight out of central casting.

    A memorial was set up where Anthony Naiboa, 20, was found shot to death in Seminole Heights. Some experts who have reviewed information in the case say that whoever is behind the three Seminole Heights killings may live in the area. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  4. Late fumble, field goal send Florida State to another loss

    College

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher didn't have an explanation for the turning point in Saturday's 31-28 last-second loss to Louisville.

    Louisville's Lamar Jackson gets past Florida State's Matthew Thomas to score in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Tallahassee Fla. (AP Photo/Steve Cannon) FLSC102
  5. Funeral starts for soldier at center of Trump fight

    Military

    COOPER CITY, Fla. (AP) — Mourners remembered not only a U.S. soldier whose combat death in Africa led to a political fight between President Donald Trump and a Florida congresswoman but his three comrades who died with him.

    The casket of Sgt. La David T. Johnson of Miami Gardens, who was killed in an ambush in Niger. is wheeled out after a viewing at the Christ The Rock Church, Friday, Oct. 20, 2017  in Cooper City, Fla. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP) FLMIH102