TAMPA — Think you had a special relationship with Eddie Flom, the high school basketball star turned real estate developer turned Christian author?
The gregarious Mr. Flom impressed with a versatility that seemed to meet every need. He planned parties and trips, proofread his friends' speeches and sometimes wrote their eulogies.
All the people of South Tampa, it seemed, each thought they were his best friend. It was the running joke of his life.
At 6-foot-6, he didn't need an outsized personality to be remembered. That, like years of volunteer coaching at Plant High or the ability to sprinkle his conversations with exotic destinations in his past, Buddhism and world politics, was a bonus.
He had added a new twist to an already adventurous life in recent years, promoting a book about the lives of the disciples while dressed as one of the Blues Brothers. He called his work on Thirty Three — The Story of Hope a "mission from God," but there was a deep seriousness behind the joke.
Mr. Flom died June 6, the result of an aortic aneurysm. He was 56. The loss has dealt a blow to a generation of South Tampa natives who grew up together.
"He was not motivated by money," said Hillsborough County Tax Collector Doug Belden, a longtime friend and former business partner. "Both of us understood that success is defined by your self-worth, not your net worth."
Edward Louis Flom was born in Tampa in 1957, into a prominent and eclectic family. He grew up attending his mother's Methodist church; while his father, former Florida Steel Corp. chairman and CEO Edward Flom, attended synagogue.
Books and basketball dominated his youth. He starred at Jesuit High, earning MVP honors (as would younger brother Mark Flom), then earned a walk-on spot at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A series of international jobs followed college, including running a youth hostel in Switzerland, where he picked up French.
A marriage in 1980 to Jeannette King lasted 22 years.
He returned to the United States in 1984, and in partnership with Belden developed residential and commercial properties for the next 15 years.
As his sons, Taylor and Chandler, went through Plant High, Mr. Flom volunteered as an assistant basketball coach and announced games as the "Voice of the Panthers."
His inner life took a dramatic turn several years ago in a deepening of his Christian beliefs. He teamed with marketing rep Kirk Berendes, who wanted to produce a book and movie about the lives of the disciples of Jesus following the crucifixion.
"I was looking for someone," said Berendes, 49. "Eddie says, 'I've got a book in me.' "
With that, Mr. Flom researched and wrote Thirty Three — The Story of Hope. "We've personalized these stories, made them intimate," he says in a promotional video.
The book was picked up by a publishing company partly owned by Jim Caviezel, who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. Mr. Flom and Berendes appeared at press events dressed as Jake and Elwood of the Blues Brothers — Eddie's idea, Berendes said.
He had also been at work on a pair of sequels covering the rest of the first century A.D. A movie could start filming in Italy and Israel later this year, Berendes said.
Mr. Flom married Janette Anderson in July, and lived in Apollo Beach. In late May he drove his parents to western North Carolina for "11 days of pure heaven," said Beverly Flom, his mother.
His sons joined them, and the group returned June 6. Mr. Flom died that night.
His funeral at the River at Tampa Bay Church drew nearly 1,000 mourners, many of whom were "shocked and shattered," said Julie Flom Pizzo, Mr. Flom's sister.
Nonetheless, the tragedy has caused some of those closest to him to place Mr. Flom's spiritual quest in a new light.
"We thought he was preparing us for life and death in general," his sister said. "We had no idea it was going to give us strength to cope with the loss of him."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.