CLEARWATER — Henry Ellowitz didn't want to wake his wife when he left Sunday afternoon for his weekly bike ride. She was napping and hadn't been feeling well.
So Henry, 69, wrote Barbara, 65, a note saying he'd walked the dog. He folded it in half and hung it from a slit in the closet by the front door of their On Top of the World condo.
Henry biked 30 or 40 miles every Sunday, part of a rigorous exercise routine since suffering heart trouble in 2007. The sinewy, 6-foot-4 retired truck driver also swam six days a week.
Sunday he rode to Honeymoon Island. Jill Kurtzke was in the car behind Henry as he came back over the Dunedin Causeway just after 4 p.m. The bike cut right suddenly, Kurtzke said, sending Henry flying. He landed hard.
Kurtzke, 53, a nursing assistant, pulled over, as did an off-duty emergency medical technician. Kurtzke unfastened Henry's helmet and the two performed CPR, but Henry didn't respond.
After the ambulance took Henry away, Kurtzke looked back and saw a large tree branch lodged between the spokes of the bike's front wheel.
Authorities were still unsure Monday what killed Henry, who left behind Barbara, their two grown daughters and five grandchildren. An autopsy is scheduled for today. A nurse told Barbara that Henry had a heart attack, but after hearing about the tree branch, Barbara was unsure. Henry was in great shape. Barbara thinks he may have died from the impact.
Henry was stubborn, she recalled Monday through tears. A Staten Island, N.Y., native, Henry lied about his age when he was 15 to get into the merchant marine, where he worked the engine room on an oil tanker that sailed to Venezuela. "There was no stopping him," Henry's mother later told Barbara.
"That's how he was with that bike," Barbara said.
Henry had been tired Sunday morning, Barbara said, but he had a cardiac stress test coming up Wednesday and he liked to be in tip-top shape for those tests. The nurse at the hospital noticed Sunday. "Your husband had great legs," she told Barbara.
Those legs were one of the things that attracted Barbara to him in the fall of 1964. Henry was in the U.S. Coast Guard; she was in high school in Delaware. They married six weeks later and raised a family in Marlboro, N.Y.
When Barbara turned 50, she took a spontaneous solo trip to Tampa and visited Honeymoon Island in Dunedin. She walked the beach, she remembered Monday, and as the sun shimmered back at her over the Gulf of Mexico, she thought This is where I want to live. This is where I want my ashes thrown.
Henry was reluctant to move at first, but he came around. He loved to ride the Pinellas Trail and swim at the Long Center. He spent hours at the library, reading history books and photocopying crossword puzzles he and Barbara filled out together.
While it was Barbara who moved them here, Henry's ashes will be the first to touch the gulf. His family waited Monday while his organs were removed — he donated everything. His 48th wedding anniversary would have been next week.
Henry's note still hung in the closet door Monday. It was written on the back of a crossword puzzle they'll never get to complete together. Barbara didn't want to take it down.