ST. PETERSBURG — Waddie Holcombe was there when they poured a slab, wading backward in rubber boots through soupy concrete, holding his end of a two-by-four as the truck idled loudly and the cylinder rattled rocks and you had to yell to be heard.
In an industry known for turnover, Mr. Holcombe stayed in the same construction job for 20 years. He toted plywood, drove a dump truck, shoveled dirt and tied steel.
For 20 years, Mr. Holcombe did whatever his bosses at Hennessy Construction Services asked of him — and then some.
Apart from his family, his other major priority lay a couple of miles down 22nd Street S from his job. Mr. Holcombe was a deacon at Pentecostal Temple Church of God in Christ. On Sundays, his gravely voice opened up in song, often as a solo.
Mr. Holcombe, a powerful man who kept his priorities straight, died Jan. 26, at Bayfront Medical Center. He was 69.
He had staying power, both in physical strength and his ability to stick with an employer.
"He looked heavy, but when you bumped into him, it was a frickin' refrigerator," said Robert Gibson, a project manager at Hennessy. "He was country strong, if you know what I mean.
"A big old super-strong guy."
Mr. Holcombe came to St. Petersburg in the mid 1960s from Alabama. For the next 20 years he worked a variety of jobs, such as construction and delivering furniture. When he found Hennessy, a relatively large company, in the mid 1980s, he latched on.
"He always had his family in mind," said Stephen Holbombe, a nephew. "He realized, 'Okay, if I jump around from job to job to job, I won't be able to provide for them.' "
Away from work, Mr. Holcombe enjoyed fishing and cooking.
Former co-workers remember his strength. On a side job, Gibson and Mr. Holcombe once installed 20 feet of granite curb in an alley by Gibson's residence. "I'm a pretty big guy, and we were both dead at the end of the day," said Gibson, 54. "He did most of the bull work."
"He was real strong," said Clinton "Peanut" Allen, 73, who with 44 years at Hennessy is one of the few to have worked there longer than Mr. Holcombe, who retired four years ago. They worked together. Mr. Holcombe dumped a load of rocks from a dump truck; Allen, a heavy equipment operator, spread them out.
He grew up in Frankville, Ala., the fourth of seven children. He played basketball in high school and loved the game. "He was easy to approach," said older brother Sam Holcombe.
Family and friends also remember Mr. Holcombe's humor. "He had a deep, booming laugh," his nephew said. "He would tease you mercilessly if he knew it got to you, but he always knew when to quit."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]