William Shephard was born blind in his left eye and with an ulcerative stomach.
"He wasn't supposed to live," said longtime friend Dave Granger. But the scrappy baby survived and grew up to become a well-known horseman and cattle rancher.
"His dream was to live to his 90th birthday," Granger said.
Mr. Shephard reached that milestone, despite falling and breaking a hip on Oct. 20, the day before his birthday. He developed complications after surgery and died Sunday (Oct. 30, 2011).
"He was a sentimental, Southern gentleman," said Dr. Chet Taylor, veterinarian to Mr. Shephard's horses, cattle and dogs he kept on his farm in Wesley Chapel.
Born in Apalachicola 1921, Mr. Shephard was an only child. His family moved to Hillsborough County when he was a child. His father was a Tampa pharmacist. He worked in his father's drugstore as soon as he was old enough to see over the counters, friends said.
He attended the University of Florida but had to drop out because of health problems. He worked in the drugstore and at several other businesses, including a funeral home. But he found his real calling growing citrus and raising livestock.
"He was proud to be a Florida cracker," said Taylor, a fellow Gator who accompanied Mr. Shephard to the 1994 Florida/Auburn match-up in which the Tigers beat the undefeated Gators by a field goal in the last 32 seconds. During the trip, he said Mr. Shephard showed him his dormitory.
"Everything meant a lot to Bill," he said.
Whether it was a dog or a heifer or a miniature pony, Mr. Shephard kept a wooden plaque in memory of each of his animals that went back more than 40 years.
"It was a joke among the cowboys that if Bill had a 21-year-old heifer that hadn't had a calf in three years, and we'd ask if he wanted to sell it to the slaughterhouse, he'd say, 'She gave me good calves for many years; she's going to die right here.' "
When he wasn't caring for cattle, Mr. Shephard was raising and racing horses and miniature ponies.
He was a fixture at the Pasco raceway and loved to watch the trotters race.
He also loved classic cars and owned a 1965 dark blue Volkswagen Beetle. He was so sentimental he even kept his first tractor.
Faith also played a big role in Mr. Shephard's life. In 1947, he was among the founders of Tims Memorial Presbyterian Church in Lutz.
Friends said he often donated to charity and was a big supporter of Metropolitan Ministries.
"He was one of the nicest human beings you'd ever meet in your life," friend Charlie Colston said. "His job on earth was as a caretaker for animals."
Mr. Shephard was the founding chairman of the Florida Whips, an organization of horse carriage aficionados throughout the state. The Whips met annually on Mr. Shephard's farm for a cross-country exhibition and picnic.
"He was planning to have a party in March to celebrate his 90th birthday," Colston said.
Mr. Shephard continued to visit his animals right up until his death. When he grew too frail to walk, he made the trips with a golf cart. He built a bridge across the creek to some woods where he sought solace.
"He called it his sanctuary," Granger said. "He prayed to the Lord and he prayed for his health and for other people. He's one of those old school people who don't exist anymore."
Mr. Shephard is survived by his wife, Dottie; and a son, Will James Shephard.