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Manuel Garcia | 1925-2009

World War II veteran from Tampa loved work, but family came first

CULBREATH ISLES — Just after the end of World War II, Centro Espanol hosted a New Year's Eve dance to welcome home Tampa's veterans. An Army Air Corps cadet named Manny Garcia caught the eye of a particular young lady.

The young lady was there with a friend named Adeline, who tried to introduce her to Mr. Garcia through a mutual acquaintance. Mr. Garcia, though, turned out to be more interested in Adeline.

"When he came over to our table, he asked me to dance instead of her, and we danced together the entire night," Adeline Garcia said. She married that young veteran two years later, and they remained together for the next 60 years, until Mr. Garcia passed away July 5 at age 83. He died of an apparent heart attack.

The young lady who had originally spotted Mr. Garcia wasn't happy that Adeline ended up dancing with him that night.

"She never spoke to me again," Adeline Garcia said.

Mr. Garcia's life started in Tampa. He grew up in Ybor City, the son of Spanish immigrants from Asturias. It ended here also, after he returned 21 years ago to retire but found that leisure didn't suit him. He wound up becoming one of the area's largest private owners of commercial and industrial real estate.

He spent the middle part of his life, the 40 years from his college graduation and marriage in 1948 to his attempt at retirement, as an executive for Burroughs Corp. and NCR Corp. His work took the family, which included two sons and a daughter, to Miami, Mexico, Venezuela, Michigan, Ohio and upstate New York.

"He worked 29 years for Burroughs and never missed a day of work," his wife said. "Then he worked for 12 years for NCR and never missed a day of work. Sometimes he'd get up in the morning and he'd say 'You know, I think I'm catching a cold,' and I tell him he should stay home. But he'd say, 'No I'll be better by the time I get home from work.' "

Invariably, she said, when he returned home he didn't even remember that he hadn't felt well that morning.

When the couple came back to Tampa, Adeline Garcia thought she and her husband would have a typical retirement.

"I had dreams of playing bridge and playing tennis with him," she said. "But he got restless."

By 1992, he had started a real estate investment company with his three children. They sold that business in 1998 and started another capital investment company.

"(His health) started failing three years ago, but until then he was at the office every day," his wife said. "He had a very bad heart. In the past three years, sometimes he couldn't go and sometimes I'd drive him to the office. But he never really stopped working."

Some people called Mr. Garcia a workaholic. That may have been technically true, but it gave the wrong impression of the man, his wife said.

"When it was time for work, he gave 100 percent to work," she said. "When it was time for family, he gave 100 percent to his family. He never forgot that family was what came first. He told me he loved me every day."

On July 5, Adeline Garcia could see her husband was ailing. She called paramedics, over his objection, and when they arrived he refused to go with them.

"Not 10 minutes later, he died," she said. "I really think he didn't want to die in the hospital, he wanted to be at home. He just said, 'I'm fine, Adeline, I'll be alright.' And those turned out to be his dying words."

Besides his wife, Mr. Garcia is survived by his sons Marshall and Martin, his daughter Myrna Haag, his sister Angie Springer and seven grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

World War II veteran from Tampa loved work, but family came first 07/16/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 16, 2009 4:30am]
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