BROOKSVILLE — Dick Snyder owned 35 pairs of cowboy boots, but none rivaled his pointy-toed King Cobras.
The boots matched his persona: always presentable but not without risk. They said, "Handle me right, and there won't be any problem."
Under the skin, Mr. Snyder wasn't threatening at all. Even talking about his grandchildren sometimes made him cry.
A cobbler, he entertained his customers at Larry's Shoe Repair with jokes so frequent, people stopped by just for laughs.
"I would always tell them, 'You've got to go to the back to talk to him because he's working,' " said store owner Larry Whitman, Mr. Snyder's boss of 17 years.
The customers would find Mr. Snyder surrounded by partially disassembled shoes, the smells of glue and leather in the air.
The cobbler had a new joke every day.
"His jokes always had a little bit of vulgarity to them, but he would deliver them in a way that made you laugh and not be repulsed," said Alicia Lowen, his daughter.
Mr. Snyder died at home Monday of a heart attack. He was 57.
"He would always stand up when he talked, and he used his hands a lot," said Lowen, 36. "There was no such thing as personal space. When you take two steps backward, he would take two steps forward."
Mr. Snyder grew up in Dayton, Ohio, the son of a firefighter. He had a rowdy side, got in a few fights and projected the image of "someone you don't want to mess with," his daughter said.
He got a job as a teenager at a print shop next door to a shoe-repair place. Curiosity and a friendship with the owner next door led to a job change, then a career.
"He really did have a name for himself in the Dayton area," his daughter said. "People would send things to him because he knew how to take care of things no one else could."
Among his favorite clients were the Dayton Gems, a minor-league hockey team, whose good reviews of his work repairing their skates yielded orders from athletic teams all over Montgomery County.
The work wore off on him, literally.
"His hands always looked dirty even if they were clean, because of the stains and polishes he had to use," his daughter said.
Mr. Snyder moved to Brooksville in 1992 after a divorce, and hooked up with Whitman a year later.
His boss called Mr. Snyder a craftsman who was good with customers. "We argued a lot, but in a friendly way," said Whitman, 60.
Mr. Snyder dated some but generally preferred a bachelor's lifestyle. He kept a ready supply of action films at his Spring Hill home, which came in handy if the cable company shut off service.
He liked Arnold, Stallone and the Terminator series, and could quote movie dialogue by heart. Most recently, he was watching and rewatching Law Abiding Citizen, in which Russell Crowe is forced to take the law in to his own hands.
He collected animal-skin boots the way some people collect Lladro figurines or Thomas Kinkade paintings, searching through trade catalogues at work.
"He had ostrich boots and emu boots and rattlesnake boots," Lowen said.
About 15 years ago he found the King Cobra boots, black with white accents. The circular pattern on the back of the snake's hood — called the "eyespot" — matched perfectly on the top of each boot, despite having been created out of two different snakes.
"He was real proud of the two cobra heads," his daughter said.
Despite the implied threat of his boots, he loved nothing more than watching his grandchildren grow up. When he talked about their achievements, Lowen said, "He was the kind of guy who put on his sunglasses so you couldn't see him tear up."
Sunday evening, Mr. Snyder announced that he wasn't feeling well and was going to bed. He appears to have died in his sleep.
His family will miss his phone calls, often beginning with, "I just called to shoot the s---."
"What that meant was, 'I miss you and I just wanted to talk to you," his daughter said.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]