TAMPA — Charlie Hounchell juggled multiple businesses and a wheel of causes that slowly expanded over the years.
He was a lawyer with an MBA and a real estate license; a former assistant state attorney who owned a furniture store; and a community activist who sat on more than a half-dozen nonprofit boards, at least two of which he chaired simultaneously.
At every turn, he gained friendships. A former model in South America and Europe, Mr. Hounchell combined a striking appearance with an unflappable demeanor.
Mr. Hounchell, a well-known real estate attorney who rarely said no to causes, died Sunday. He was 53.
"Any time there was a worthwhile community event, Charlie was not only there to lead the charge, he made sure that everyone else was there," said former Hillsborough County commissioner Rose Ferlita.
He was resourceful, whether whipping up one of his kitchen-sink Bloody Marys or roping friends into nonprofit work. A few years ago, he persuaded Tampa crime novelist Michael Connelly, a friend of 35 years, to judge entries for the writing portion of a high school arts scholarship Mr. Hounchell started.
"These young people were thankful to me," said Connelly, 56, best known for novels featuring Detective Harry Bosch. "But it was really Charlie in the background who put that all together. It was one of the better moments of my life."
Linda Connelly, 54, Michael's wife, had known Mr. Hounchell since early childhood.
"He was the guy you wanted to hang out with at a party or go out to dinner with," she said.
Mr. Hounchell was born and raised in St. Petersburg, a dentist's son. He graduated from George Washington University, earned a master's degree in Spanish at Middlebury College and a law degree from the University of Florida. For several years, he and his wife, Barbara Lynch, both worked as models in Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires and Madrid.
He earned an MBA at an Arizona college, then returned to the Tampa Bay area and worked as a prosecutor. From there, he owned a medical billing company for several years. He also operated a law firm and title company and sold real estate.
His marriage of 11 years ended. The couple have remained close. "He was my best friend," Lynch said.
Mr. Hounchell came out as a gay man. For the last decade, he had been romantically involved with Stephen Gay, a fellow real estate agent. In 2005, Mr. Hounchell opened a South Tampa furniture store with Lynch, Gay and Linda Connelly.
In the meantime, his involvement in causes went way beyond writing checks.
Mr. Hounchell once worked with the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, and later chaired the board of The Spring of Tampa Bay, Florida's largest domestic violence shelter.
He served on the board of Tampa Bay Businesses for Culture and the Arts for several years, chairing it for two years.
In 2007 he set up the High School Art Stars Scholarship Program, which awards $15,000 annually to high school students. In recent years Mr. Hounchell was also a board member of the Tampa branch of Equality Florida, a civil rights organization for the state's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
Mr. Hounchell collapsed in a hotel elevator Sunday in New York, where he had been attending a conference. He died at Bellevue Hospital. The news has shocked friends. Mr. Hounchell worked out regularly and had no known health problems. But he ruminated about the possibility of death in a lighthearted way. He wanted a party, not a funeral, he told friends.
"He joked that if someone said, 'Where's Charlie?', you should say, 'Oh, he's dead,' and move right on with the conversation," said Gay, 38.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.