TARPON SPRINGS — For the last 34 years, Thomas Dobies has owned a business that serves people at one of the most tragic times of their lives. With five funeral homes and a crematory in North Pinellas and Pasco counties, Dobies has stoically helped people who were overcome with grief and pain.
But while watching a recent television show about the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, Dobies became emotional himself and had to turn the television off.
"I just feel for those families and the bodies that were not found," Dobies said. "A kid is not going to grow up with a father. A wife has lost a husband. It's affected people not only in our country, but all around."
Now, Dobies is helping to ensure that the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives 10 years ago when terrorists flew airplanes into the Pentagon and the twin towers of the World Trade Center are not forgotten. He is contributing up to $10,000 to help erect the Tarpon Springs Public Safety Memorial Garden.
The memorial, to be built in front of the Harry K. Singletary Jr. Public Safety Facility at 444 S Huey Ave., will be shaped like a badge around a flag pole flying an American flag. On one side will be the names of the three Tarpon police officers who lost their lives in the line of duty. The other side will feature a 150-pound steel beam from the collapsed World Trade Center.
The entire memorial will be funded with private sector money and is expected to be completed in the first half of next year. The memorial's conceptual rendering was done by E.C. Hoffman Designs of Tarpon Springs at no cost.
"It's just so tragic having so many people in the line of duty to lose their lives," Dobies, 58, said. "And not only them, but the people in the buildings.
"But you can touch that beam and you will feel all those people," Dobies said. "It's something that will never go away, and maybe by doing some of these memorials, it will help some of the healing."
Tarpon Springs Fire Rescue took possession of the hunk of steel about two months ago after paying $200 to have it shipped to the city. The department worked for about a year to get a piece of the World Trade Center's remains.
While the overall design for the memorial is complete, resident input is being sought on how best to display the steel, which is 301/2 inches tall, 261/2 inches wide and 81/2 inches deep.
Fire Chief Richard Butcher said the memorial will show that "the brotherhood extends beyond city and state boundaries" and is not just about fire departments, the police and the port authority.
There were 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers killed in the 9/11 attacks.
"This is more than just a picture in the paper or something you see on a computer or TV screen," Butcher said of the 9/11 steel. "This is a piece that people can actually come up and touch. It's tangible.
"The first time I grabbed hold of it, there was a connection, and it's going to be (there) for anybody in the public to put their hand on and feel that connection," he said. "This brings it home and makes it real. It makes it more personal."
Police Chief Bob Kochen said it is fitting to have the memorial in front of the building that both the police and fire departments share. Kochen said it was "awesome" that there's a partnership with the private sector to get the memorial funded.
Mayor David Archie agreed.
"It shows the type of community and city that Tarpon is," Archie said. "We have many people, when there is a need and they see something that is important, they step up. Having a memorial like this is a good way of trying to keep alive the memories of people who have paid the ultimate sacrifice and that's the giving of their lives."
This isn't the first time Dobies has contributed to the Pasco County and Tarpon communities when there is need. As a matter of fact, on Tuesday the Tarpon Police Department will retire a police dog that Dobies donated to the department. The dog is named Dobies.
"I'm always in line to help," Dobies said. "That's my commitment, to give back to the community."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org and (727) 445-4174