TAMPA — During his last sermon Saturday, the Rev. Hercules Gilmore told his small East Tampa congregation to be a "flashlight" to the world. Shine, spread the good news and live it out like a beacon for everyone to see.
Longshoremen who worked with the pastor on the Port of Tampa docks said he practiced what he preached, providing encouragement and confidence to other stevedores at the right time in people's lives.
"He was a good, upright man," Andre Futrell said. "Whenever you worked with him there was a reason for you to work with him."
Futrell and Gilmore, from St. Petersburg, were among the dockworkers helping Tuesday to unload the Honesty Ocean, a Panamanian freighter. The cargo included 2 tons of black iron pipes that measured 42 feet long and 3 inches wide, and Gilmore was in the ship's hull, helping to arrange them into 10 bundles of 10 pipes each for a crane to lift.
The crane was raising one of the bundles when a strap broke high above him and the rigging gave way, dropping loose heavy pipes over the ship's deck, side and back down into the hull. Gilmore and his colleagues scattered to avoid being hit. But he tumbled 15 feet into an even lower level of the ship, and the fall killed him, according to a Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's case summary.
Two other workers in the area escaped without injury, Hillsborough Sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said. Futrell, 50, of Tampa broke his right leg and was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where surgeons inserted pins and a plate. The last thing he remembers was working on the ship.
"I don't even recall what happened after that," he said.
What he knows, he said, is that he lost Gilmore, 56, who affected his life several times.
"I lost a good friend," he said.
Divine Worship House of God, a small congregation of about 30 on N 34th Street, lost its lead pastor.
"He lived a life where you could tell he was a pastor," said Katie Harrison, a church member and occasional secretary. "He was nobody who was scheming or anything. Very upright, very loving. Anyone who came off the street who needed help, our pastor gave anything to help him."
Although he was tall and imposing with a name to match, Gilmore was a quiet teacher who believed love broke down people's hard shells. Gilmore's favorite verse was Jeremiah 31:3, "… I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness," said Rosson Hamilton, a church member and minister.
In its four years, Divine House of God hosted movie screenings, serving free hot dogs and popcorn to about 100 community children and parents. The church also held clothing drives and giveaways.
Gilmore's sermons were always hopeful. He stressed family, extolling men to love their wives.
"They had been married for over 40 years," Hamilton said, "and he was definitely an example of how to love on our wife and stick by your wife's side."
Jo Ann Gilmore, who served as the church's co-pastor, could not be reached. Hercules Gilmore is also survived by one son, Andre, 36.
Before he became a stevedore, Gilmore worked an office job. About 15 years ago, the Navy veteran took a job on the docks because he liked the flexibility, which allowed him to minister more. He had served as an associate pastor in a St. Petersburg church for several years before he led Divine House of God, Hamilton said.
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and Tampa Fire Rescue have turned their investigation over to the U.S. Coast Guard and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
OSHA spokesman Michael D'Aquino confirmed federal investigators are looking into the fatal incident but declined to comment until a final report is released, which can take up to six months.
The Medical Examiner's Office has ruled Gilmore's death an accident.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this story. Justin George can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, (813) 226-3368 or Twitter @justingeorge.